Archive for Sunday, October 31, 2004

Working the vote

Companies must ensure time for employees to visit polls

October 31, 2004


If you're one of the 4,572 faculty and staffers who work at Kansas University's Lawrence campus, Ola Faucher has news for you.

Get out and vote.

And, if necessary, get paid.

"The university is supportive of people voting for the candidates of their choice," said Faucher, KU's director of human resources and equal opportunity. "We allow up to two hours of paid time off if they can't make it to the polls in time to vote."

Employees throughout Douglas County have more options and opportunities than ever before to get out and vote as Tuesday's Election Day approaches.

From expanded advance voting to mail-in ballots, casting a vote for president, Congress, state representative or county office has never been easier. The Douglas County Clerk's Office even opened its doors for four hours Saturday morning to accommodate voters wanting to cast ballots in advance without missing work.

But for those stuck on tradition or otherwise intent on darkening ovals Tuesday, a state law remains on the books to back you up: Employers must allow voting workers up to two hours between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. to head to the polls.

There are conditions:

  • Workers must not have voted already.
  • The time off applies only if the polls are open for less than two consecutive hours before or after an employee's work day. If an employee works, say, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., the employee would be able to come in 30 minutes late or leave 30 minutes early, so that a two-hour window for voting would be opened.

Time for travel

Not that all managers are keeping a tight watch on the time clock come Election Day.

Time is running out for registered voters looking to cast their ballots in advance.Advance voting will be available from 8 a.m. to noon Monday at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Mass.Voters with mail ballots have until 7 p.m. Tuesday to deliver their completed ballots to the County Clerk's Office at the courthouse.All county polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

"We don't split the hair that fine," said Faucher, who noted that KU's flexible policy had been in effect since at least 1972, when she started work on campus. "We allow up to two hours of paid time off if they can't make it to the polls in time to vote. We believe that two hours includes travel time, because some folks don't live in Lawrence."

All the university asks is that workers check in with a supervisor to coordinate schedules and make sure job responsibilities are covered.

"Obviously, we're interested in being supportive of the election process," Faucher said.

Smaller businesses face different circumstances but still must play by the same rules, said Curt Clinkinbeard, regional director for KU's Small Business Development Center, which shares a building with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.

With 22.9 million small businesses operating across the country, he said, it would be no surprise to learn that some employees might see inconsistent application of workplace voting freedoms.

"It's really an individual approach," Clinkinbeard said, of small-business owners. "Most people are going to find that it's important to go vote, and most would find that it's important for their people to go vote. If you have a business owner that's apathetic, then they'll be apathetic about allowing their employees to go vote.

"It's highly variable."

Count John Levin among the apathetic.

At the watercooler

The owner of LindySpring Systems in Topeka doesn't much care about the presidential election, preferring to focus on mayoral races and other offices that are closer to home.

"I won't vote for either of them," he said. "That way I won't feel responsible for what happened."

And he doesn't particularly worry about ensuring a two-hour voting window for his 60 employees, who maintain and deliver bottled water and related products throughout northeast Kansas, including Lawrence.

"Just vote at 7 o'clock in the morning. That's what I do," he said. "I can be here at 8 o'clock, and if somebody came in and said they didn't have time to vote, I'd say, 'Well, why don't you go at 7 o'clock? You can go with me.'"

Levin said that he'd never had an employee ask him for time off to vote. And if someone does this Tuesday, he'll have a response ready.

"I'd ask them if they were going to vote for (President) Bush or (John) Kerry," Levin said, "and if they said the wrong thing, I wouldn't let 'em go."

Levin's only joking, but penalties for businesses that violate the law are no laughing matter.

An employer found to have violated the voting law can be fined up to $2,500 and spend up to a year in jail, according to Lathrop & Gage, a law firm in Kansas City, Mo.

"With elections looming ... employers should be aware of employees' rights on Election Day," said Lee Page, a spokesman for the firm.

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