In California, employees have a right to take time off work to vote if they do not have enough time outside of working hours to do so in a statewide election.1 Although employees may take off as much time needed to be able to vote, only two hours must be paid leave.2 The employer may not require the use of paid vacation or other forms of accrued paid time off.3
This right to paid voting leave extends to all employees in California, whether they work for a public agency or a private employer.4 This article will explain when an employee is entitled to leave, when that leave must be taken, the obligations of both the employer and the employee in reference to that leave, and the impact of early voting and vote-by-mail laws on the necessary provision of time off.
When Is an Employee Entitled to Leave to Vote?☍ Click to Copy a Link to This Chapter
Statewide Elections Only
An employee may only be entitled to leave to vote in a statewide election.5 This would exclude elections where only local or municipal candidates or ballot measures are at issue, and the election is being held only in certain cities or counties.6 It would, however, include primary elections, as long as the elections are statewide.
Employee Must Not Have Time to Vote Outside of Working Hours
The law is intended to provide an opportunity to vote to employees who would not be able to do so because of their jobs.7 But because polls in California are open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., many employees have adequate time to vote during nonworking hours.
A California court considering whether an employee should have been granted time off to vote found that because the employee’s shift ended at 3:30 p.m., while the polls closed at 8:00 p.m., the employee had sufficient time outside of working hours to cast his vote.8 Although this case was an unpublished opinion, and thus not binding law, it likely reflects what a court would find if similar circumstances were alleged by an employee.
Examples of why an employee may not have enough time to vote during non-work hours include:
- The employee is working a very long shift on election day.
- The employee lives a great distance from work and would not have time to get to the proper polling place in time.
- The employee is scheduled to be working out of town on election day.
In addition, all counties in California permit mail-in voting and many allow early voting may impact the determination of whether an employees would not be able to vote without being granted time off from work.
When Must Leave Be Taken?
The leave must be taken at the beginning or end of the employee’s regular working shift, whichever allows the most time for voting and the least time off from working, unless the employer and employee make other arrangements.9
No Right Under Federal Law
Federal law does not provide employees the right to take time off to vote in federal elections. Federal elections, however, almost always occur on the same day as statewide elections. So, if an employee is entitled to leave under California law, that employee may use that time off to vote for any candidates for federal office who are on the ballot alongside candidates for state office.
Required Notices☍ Click to Copy a Link to This Chapter
Employers Must Give Notice of the Right to Take Voting Leave
Employers are required to post a notice to employees advising them of their right to take paid leave to vote in statewide elections.10 The notice must be posted at least 10 days before a statewide election, must be conspicuous, and should either be in the workplace itself or in a place where employees are likely to see it as they arrive at or depart from work.11
Time Off to Vote Notices (Opens in new window) may be downloaded for free from the California Secretary of State’s website. They are available in English and nine other languages.
For employees working outside of the office, either at home or at a different location, employers should consider emailing a copy of the notice or otherwise ensuring that all employees are made aware of their leave rights.
Employees Must Give Notice of Intent to Take Leave
Employers may require employees to give at least two working days’ notice that they will need time off to vote.12 Although there is no requirement that this notice be in writing, it is generally a good idea to do so and to keep a record of the notice.
Impact of Vote-by-Mail and Early Voting Provisions☍ Click to Copy a Link to This Chapter
In California, every registered voter may vote by mail instead of going to the polls on election day.13 Under California Voter’s Choice Act,14 in participating counties, ballots will be mailed to voters 28 days before an election, and voters may:
- Return their ballot by mail.
- Drop the ballot in a secure county ballot box.
- Visit any vote center in the county.15
Under these rules, traditional polling places are replaced by vote centers. Voters may cast a ballot in-person at any ballot center in the county; voters are no longer required to cast their votes at a specific polling place.16
These rights, however, only apply in participating counties. As of February 2, 2022, nearly half of California counties have opted into the Voter’s Choice Act provisions. (List of participating counties (Opens in new window).)
Despite these additional opportunities to vote, employees must still be given time to vote in-person if needed. Whether that time is needed will depend on whether an employee is deemed to have enough time outside of working hours to go vote. Employers must consider the employee’s working hours, where that employee must go to vote, and the voting opportunities still available at the time of the request.
Elections Code, § 14000, subd. (a) [“If a voter does not have sufficient time outside of working hours to vote at a statewide election, the voter may, without loss of pay, take off enough working time that, when added to the voting time available outside of working hours, will enable the voter to vote.]↥
Elections Code, § 14000, subd. b) [“No more than two hours of the time taken off for voting shall be without loss of pay.”]↥
See Elections Code, § 14000, subd. (a).↥
“Elections Code, § 14002. [“Sections 14000, 14001, and 14004 shall apply to all public agencies and the employees thereof, as well as to employers and employees in private industry.”].↥
Elections Code, § 14000, subd. (a).↥
See Elections Code, § 14000, subd. (a).↥
Godfrey v. Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Cal. Ct. App., Mar. 20, 2020, No. C085693) 2020 WL 1316346.↥
Elections Code, § 14000, subd. b) [“The time off for voting shall be only at the beginning or end of the regular working shift, whichever allows the most free time for voting and the least time off from the regular working shift, unless otherwise mutually agreed.”]↥
Elections Code, § 14001 [“Not less than 10 days before every statewide election, every employer shall keep posted conspicuously at the place of work, if practicable, or elsewhere where it can be seen as employees come or go to their place of work, a notice setting forth the provisions of Section 14000.]↥
Elections Code, § 14001.↥
Elections Code, § 14000, subd. (c) [“If the employee on the third working day prior to the day of election, knows or has reason to believe that time off will be necessary to be able to vote on election day, the employee shall give the employer at least two working days’ notice that time off for voting is desired, in accordance with this section.]↥
Elections Code, § 3033 [“The vote by mail ballot shall be available to any registered voter.”]↥
Elections Code, §§ 3017, 4005, 4006, 4007, 4008, 15320, as amended by Stats. 2016, ch. 832 (S.B. 450), § 2.5, eff. Jan. 1, 2017.↥
Elections Code, § 3017 subd. (a) [“After marking the ballot, the vote by mail voter shall do any of the following: (1) return the ballot by mail or in person to the elections official who issued the ballot, (2) return the ballot in person to a member of a precinct board at a polling place or vote center within the state, or (3) return the ballot to a vote by mail ballot dropoff location within the state that is provided pursuant to Section 3025 or 4005.”].↥
See Elections Code, §§ 3017, subd. (a), 4005, subds. (a)(3)(A), (a)(4)(A).↥