You may not be aware of it, but Texas law does mandate paid time off to vote.
Chad Baruch of the Johnston Tobey Baruch law firm is an appellate attorney, he also handles litigation for the Dallas County Democratic Party. He explains Texas law says each employer must give an employee sufficient paid time off to vote on Election Day. The law doesn’t define a “sufficient” time period, but the Texas Workforce Commission recommends two hours if you don’t have two consecutive hours off outside your shift on Election Day.
“If you're a noon to 8 p.m. employee, you're not entitled to any time off because you have two consecutive hours before your shift begins,” Baruch explains. “The same would be true in Dallas County of someone who worked until five o'clock because the polls here close at seven.”
With the polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., most workers would have two hours together outside their work shift. If you are working a 12- hour 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift, you’re entitled to two hours of paid time to vote though your boss can tell you when you take that time, according to Baruch.
What about overtime? According to the Texas Attorney General's opinion, the law says an employer must provide paid time off to vote if the worker is working mandatory overtime. If the employee requested voluntary overtime, the employer isn’t obligated to pay for that time.
When it comes to early voting, which continues through Oct. 30 in Texas, Baruch says the law doesn’t require paid time off during that period.
“The reality is the statute probably has not caught up with the trend toward early voting in the last decade. So, the statute doesn't say anything about early voting. It is restricted to Election Day, but I don't think anything would prohibit employers from encouraging employees to vote early,” said Baruch.
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Some employers in Texas are going further, actively encouraging employees to vote.
On Nov. 3, Texas-based JuiceLand is closing its locations early at 1:30 p.m. in order to give the company’s roughly 400 employees time to vote.
“I feel like a lot of times people feel disconnected or they don't feel engaged in the voting process. We're just trying to give that little extra nudge,” said JuiceLand owner Matt Shook.
Shook says the company isn’t paying employees for the hours the stores are closed, though employees get PTO and can tap into it to supplement the hours.
“The restaurant industry is suffering record losses this year. So, we wanted to do something that could encourage people to vote. At the same time, the PTO allows them to not miss any pay,” said Shook. “We feel like the half-day was a nice middle ground.”
Companies around the country are signing onto a nonpartisan effort called Time to Vote, pledging to give employees time to cast their ballots even if their state does not require it. Companies may take different approaches, like not scheduling any meetings on Election Day or giving their employees the entire day off with pay.
According to the Pew Research Center, voter turnout in the U.S. is lower than much of the developed world, pointing to just under 56% of the U.S. voting-age population casting a ballot in 2016. In Texas, about 46% of the voting-age population turned out in 2016.
Shook says he hopes to help change that, especially among young voters.
“A lot of the folks that work in JuiceLand are younger,” said Shook. “Now that I'm in my 40s, I can speak from experience that voting matters. We all have a voice and we should all feel engaged. It's really our duty in a democracy.”
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