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On Election Day, Minnesota requires businesses offer paid time off while employees vote

Though Minnesota law already requires employers provide employees a paid opportunity to vote, U.S. lawmakers are hoping to implement the same concept nationwide.

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ST. PAUL — Scheduled to work on Election Day? Don’t worry — Minnesota law has your back.

Minnesota is one of 22 states, plus the District of Columbia, that requires employers to pay their employees for any time necessary to head to the polls and cast their ballot.

The law stems back to the Minnesota Legislature’s election law overhaul in 1981, which struck most of the existing statutes regarding elections to re-section and reorganize all aspects of elections.

Under Article V of the overhaul, entitled “Election Day Activities,” one section made clear that employees must be allowed to vote on Election Day without penalty.

“Every employee who is eligible to vote … has the right to be absent from work for the purpose of voting during the morning of election day, without penalty or deduction from salary or wages because of the absence,” the law reads.

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According to Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon’s official website, employers cannot directly or indirectly refuse, limit or otherwise interfere with an employee’s desire to vote. They can, however, ask for a timeframe that employees believe they’ll be voting and ask that employees coordinate their absences to minimize workplace disruptions.

Simon’s office said that any employer who interferes with an employee's rights could be charged with a misdemeanor, which carries a potential sentence of 90 days of jail time plus fines of up to $1,000. Complaints regarding election law violations by workplaces should be filed with county attorneys.

A letter explaining an employee’s voting rights to employers is available on the secretary of state’s website.

If missing out on work isn’t an option, early and absentee voting is already open in Minnesota. More information regarding where to acquire a ballot ahead of Election Day can be found on each county’s website.

Paid time off to vote focus of federal bill

In April, Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., introduced a bill to the U.S. House of Representatives aiming to make paid time off to vote a requirement in all states.

Currently, 29 states require that employers create an opportunity for their employees to vote in elections. However, seven of them do not require that time off to be paid. North Dakota is among 21 states that have no law regarding time off for employees to vote.

The bill, entitled the “Time Off to Vote Act,” would require all employers to, upon an employee’s request, provide a minimum of two consecutive hours of paid time off for an employee to vote. Under the proposal, the employer would have the right to choose the two-hour period, including reserving the option to provide that time during a period of early voting, depending on the state’s existing laws.

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The law would only apply to federal elections, and would not be enforced for local elections. Violations reported to the U.S. Department of Labor could result in civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.

The proposal was co-sponsored by Minnesota’s Rep. Ilhan Omar and 37 other House Democrats. After its introduction on April 11, it was referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor, where it has made no progress since.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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