How employers can plan for flexibility on election day
Today is Juneteenth, “the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.” Despite its importance, many Americans don’t know about Juneteenth, and it’s not a federal holiday. This year, a number of companies — from Adobe and Mastercard to Netflix and Twitter — have made public commitments to observe Juneteenth, and many will take the day off from work. Nearly all states recognize Juneteenth in some way; New York State is giving government employees the day off this year and working on making it an official state holiday next year. Organizations that haven’t formally recognized the holiday should begin thinking about how to include Juneteenth in their 2021 holiday calendars and beyond.
Later this year, employers will need to consider how to approach another day that’s important to justice and democracy, but not a federal holiday: election day.
Long lines and significant waiting times at polls during recent primaries have prompted renewed calls for employers to give employees paid time off for voting. It’s an important consideration for every community, but is especially critical for communities of color; during the 2016 election, researchers found that residents of predominantly black neighborhoods waited 29% longer than those in white neighborhoods and were 74% more likely to spend more than 30 minutes simply waiting in line.
Of course, not every organization can completely shut down on election day. Transit workers will need to drive buses and subways; nurses and doctors must care for patients; farmers can’t neglect crops and livestock. And some companies — especially small businesses — can’t afford to lose a day of business if their competitors stay open. Many states are now offering early voting or expanding absentee (mail-in) voting, but each state’s election rules are different. Depending on an organization’s circumstances, there may be multiple options for giving employees time to vote while still getting the job done. Here are a few options:
- Close for the day and provide paid time off to all employees. This is the ideal scenario — if your company can pause its work and afford to do it. Patagonia, a champion of the “Time To Vote” movement, has closed its stores and given employees paid leave for voting since 2016.
- Promote flexible working hours. Organizations that can’t afford to completely shut down can promote a shorter day or flexible working hours. Shift all meetings to another day, and allow employees to come in late or leave early; make sure no one is penalized for working fewer hours if voting takes longer than expected. Many nonessential businesses — the ones with employees working from home right now — have learned to adapt to the pandemic and can apply those learnings to election day.
- Swap or stagger shifts to cover work that must be done. For companies that rely on shift work, extra thought should go into flexing scheduling systems to accommodate employees who will need more time to vote. This may be a particularly useful option for essential businesses in states with early voting, where staff outages can be distributed over several days.
No matter which approach your organization takes, it’s important to start planning now: November 3 is less than five months away.
Photo credit: Element5 Digital