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Employee Voting in the Era of COVID-19

by Patrick Mehler

With over 25 states providing employee time off for voting, conversations surrounding voting rights have reemerged. In New York, delayed results, hours-long lines, and general disenfranchisement of voters in primaries have raised concerns around employees’ abilities to vote in the general election. New York is not the first to suffer from fewer polling locations and poll workers during the primaries, with voters suffering in red and blue states alike, such as in Georgia and Wisconsin.

New York state election law currently states “New York state employees are eligible for up to two hours of paid time off to vote if they do not have ‘sufficient time to vote.’ This excludes COVID-19 accommodations for employee voting.

Unprecedented unemployment has only amplified the concerns. Most of those who remain working have switched to telecommuting or are working in dangerous work environments. Workers who have been fortunate enough to continue working face a new challenge with upholding their civic duty in November without compromising their jobs.

For those working from home, the blurred line between work and leisure might also prevent New Yorkers from exercising their right for paid-time off to vote.

Those continuing to work in person face even more dangerous issues surrounding proper time to vote and their safety from the coronavirus: can employees receive extensions if voting lines are long? Can employees still receive pay even after the designated two hours? Will safety be the top priority in commuting from the workplace to the polls?

In a victory for voting rights, Governor Cuomo’s recent order allows all New Yorkers to vote by mail this election. Although the order eases restrictions, employees and employers still remain confused surrounding procedure and practice for paid-time off to vote in the era of COVID-19.

Employees should talk with their managers and bosses about the upcoming election and establish transparency between employee and employer regarding paid time off to vote. If the state does not adjust to this new era of COVID-19, employers can be the bridge that allows New Yorkers to actively participate in their democracy and vote.

To check your state’s current status on paid-time off to vote, check here.

To read more on New York State election law, go here.

Patrick Mehler

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