Soon the polls will open for a number of local, statewide, and federal elections. While polling stations will run from 6 AM to 6 PM, there are still a number of Kentucky workers whose schedules may keep them from getting a chance to cast their ballots. Luckily, the Commonwealth of Kentucky has a number of laws in place providing rights and protections to workers who perform their civic duty on Election Day.
TIME OFF TO VOTE
In Kentucky, employers are required to provide employees a reasonable amount of time off work in order to vote in an election. This leave of absence must not be less than four hours, and must be scheduled between the opening and closing of the polls. An employer must also provide the same amount of leave to a person who, prior to Election Day, visits the clerk’s office to request an application for, or execute, an absentee ballot. This leave must be provided during business hours. In either scenario, employers can require employees planning to vote to apply for leave prior to Election day, and can also set the hours during which the employee can take leave.
THE PENALTY PROVISION
There is no specific requirement that an employer pay its employee for the time taken off to vote. However, the law does prohibit an employer from penalizing an employee for taking such leave. This provision is fairly vague, and the statute provides no definition of the term “penalize,” so the issue of what constitutes a penalty is not entirely settled, although t is likely safe to assume that any adverse action against an employee for taking leave to vote (firing, demoting, decreasing wages) will be covered.
However, the statute does make clear that an employee who requests leave to vote, but in turn does not cast a ballot, may be penalized or disciplined. This provision only applies if the employee was able to vote, but simply chose not to.
An employee selected to be an election officer is entitled to a leave of absence from employment for an entire day for training and to serve as an officer during election day. There have been a number of recent cases in which employers have attempted to force their employees for voting for a certain candidate. For instance, the CEO of Rite-Hite, a company that manufactures dock loading equipment, sent an email to all of Rite-Hite’s employees threatening “personal consequences” to those employees if a particular candidate won office. In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, that would very likely be considered illegal. In Kentucky, the following acts are prohibited:
- attempting to coerce, influence or direct an employee’s vote for a political party, candidate, platform, principle, or issue through bribes, promises, favors, or other inducements;
- threatening to discharge an employee if he or she votes for any candidate; and
- circulating any statement or report that employees are expected to vote for any person, group of persons, or measure.
An employer who violates any of the above rights and privileges could be subject to civil liability. Remember these provisions on Election Day, and if you feel your employer has taken any adverse action against you for voting, or for voting for a certain candidate, you should seek counsel immediately in order to learn about your options.