voting

Should employees get Election Day off? Hundreds of companies think so

By Tina Irgang

Politicians have long argued that Election Day being on a Tuesday constitutes a barrier to voting for many workers, who may not be able to take sufficient time off to participate in the polls. A growing number of companies seems to agree, and will provide a paid day off Nov. 8.

Of course, adding another paid holiday to the list can be a hard sell for many employers, with the main concern being the amount of lost productivity.

In fact, lost productivity is one of the main arguments that come up in discussions of whether to make Election Day a federal holiday. In 1983, when the nation debated making Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a holiday, it was estimated that this would result in $225 million in lost productivity annually, according to the National Constitution Center. (As you probably know, the effort to establish this holiday was ultimately successful anyway.)

The idea to add Election Day to the federal holiday roster keeps coming up, however. Many unsuccessful bills have been introduced in Congress to make it happen, and there have been countless citizen petitions, according to NPR’s Marketplace. In 2014, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont proposed a bill that would have rechristened Election Day as a Democracy Day holiday, according to Business Insider.

What’s the reasoning behind this idea? “Proponents of an Election Day change say it can increase voter turnout and increase civic sentiment among the population. It’s a huge issue for the U.S., which has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the world,” Marketplace notes.

Other proponents of a change point to the fact that voting on a Tuesday is a relic of a bygone era. The Tuesday date was established by Congress in 1872, a time when the only work-free day was Sunday, and that was reserved for religious observation, notes The Atlantic.

The magazine notes that it would be difficult to change the Tuesday date because it’s become an entrenched custom even in state-level primaries, and the option of moving to a weekend might be opposed by different religious groups who observe services on Saturdays or Sundays. As an alternative, The Atlantic suggests moving Election Day to coincide with Veterans’ Day. (Of course, many companies don’t actually close their offices on that day.)

If there’s no federal holiday, should you give the day off?

If we accept that it’s hard to change an entrenched custom, and given the fact that not much traction has materialized around a federal Election Day holiday this year, should you give employees the day off to vote anyway?

More and more companies are doing just that. Patagonia, for example, will close all its retail stores Nov. 8 to encourage both employees and customers to vote. For CEO Rose Marcario, it’s a question of supporting the company’s mission. In a statement on the company’s website, she says: “During a time of catastrophic environmental crisis, when America needs strong leadership to confront the fundamental threat of climate change, voter turnout threatens to reach historic lows as people are turned off by the ugliness of politics. …We want to do everything possible to empower citizens to make their voices heard and elect candidates up and down the ballot who will protect our planet.”

A list of companies giving employees the day off is posted on the website of advocacy group Take Off Election Day and includes companies with fewer than 10 employees along with well-known giants such as Survey Monkey and Spotify. All in all, there are more than 300 companies on the list.

Ultimately, whatever decision you make probably comes down to your company’s values and mission. If you actively encourage employees to get involved in their community, as many companies do these days, you might want to consider whether making it easier to vote should be a part of that effort.

Tina Irgang is the managing editor of SmartCEO magazine and SmartCEO.com. Contact her at tina@smartceo.com