Civic time off: The benefit getting employees to the polls
Voter engagement for midterm engagement historically has been poor. Some companies are offering new benefits to change that — even offering the day off to encourage employees to vote.
American employers that provide paid time off stands at about 44%, a record high, according to the latest research from the Society for Human Resource Management. The human resource organization estimates 29% of these companies offer employers more than an hour or two of voting time.
Despite such accommodations, about 60% of Americans didn’t vote in the last midterm election, according to research by Vote.org, a voters’ advocacy organization. The biggest obstacle to voting was scheduling conflicts; 35% of people said they couldn’t vote because of work and school.
“There’s no federal protection for voting leave for employees, which means it’s up to the states to set their own policies. Policies are inconsistent, but some states have no laws at all,” says Colette Kessler, director of partnerships at Vote.org. “This puts employers in a powerful position to enable employees to get to vote.”
But as more Americans prepare to head to the polls for key elections across the United States, employers including Patagonia, Zenefits and Honest Tea are opting to give employees paid time off to make their voice heard.
Outdoor retailer Patagonia, for instance, is closing its stores as well as its headquarters and distribution and customer-service center to give employees paid time off to vote. “No American should have to choose between a paycheck and fulfilling his or her duty as a citizen,” Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario wrote in a company blog post.
Meanwhile, human resource software company Zenefits implemented a new program in which employees can take time off to vote the same way they would for a doctor’s appointment. Voting won’t cut into their sick days, vacation time or paid time off. Instead, voting gets its own designation — civic time off, or CTO. That free time can be used for voting, volunteering for a candidate, attending a school board meeting or canvassing.
“Civic time off is a new concept for the industry, and we’re excited to be among the first to offer such a benefit,” says Beth Steinberg, chief people officer at Zenefits, in a letter on the company blog. “At Zenefits, it’s been a priority to help build our team’s skill set not only as it pertains to professional career growth, but also to encourage their development outside of the workplace as engaged and empowered citizens.”
Vote.org consults with companies interested in implementing a CTO program. Based on individual business models and company culture, the organization will suggest either full days off, half days or flexible scheduling.
“One benefit we’re really excited about is offering employees a half day. It gives employees the ability to get to their polling places and do their morning routine — like getting the kids to school and running errands,” Kessler says. “And later they can convene with colleagues and celebrate Election Day. We’re seeing HR teams create afternoon lunch parties to celebrate.”
Kessler says some companies are hesitant to provide time off for voting because they’re worried about losing productivity. However, most of the companies she’s worked with have been enthusiastic about providing their workforce with time off to vote.
“We don’t see any drawbacks to offering our employees flexibility on Election Day,” says Seth Goldman, co-founder and CEO emeritus of beverage company Honest Tea, which allows its 50 employees to take a few hours of paid time off go to the polls on Election Day, at their convenience. “It’s a right we all should be proud to recognize and support however we can.”
(An earlier version of this story had a reference to elections in 46 states. This story has been updated to reflect midterm elections in all 50 states.)