Anyone in the US who has recently had a work meeting derailed by their coworkers talking politics knows that the elections coming up on November 6 are attracting far more attention and interest than midterm elections normally do. The political environment in the US remains highly charged and polarized, while these elections are seen as having particularly high stakes. Poll watchers are expecting voter turnout to be high, partly helped along by a growing number of employers giving their workers paid time off to vote on Election Day. Beyond that, Washington Post columnist Jena McGregor reports, they are actively encouraging their employees to go out and vote:
At Cava, the Washington D.C.-based chain of Mediterranean fast-casual restaurants, its 1,600 workers will get two hours of paid time off to vote on Election Day this year if they request it in advance, a nationwide perk for its workers. For the first time, Tyson Foods, the meat company, has launched a company-wide voter registration initiative, with many of its plants participating in an effort to register employees and offer details about early voting, absentee ballots and voting locations. Levi Strauss & Co. has named volunteer “voting captains” in each of its offices and distribution centers to hold registration drives and educate workers; it’s also giving employees, including retail workers, paid time off to vote.
Organizations that give their employees time off on Election Day, whether they make it a holiday or simply let staff take a few hours off to vote, do so for a variety of reasons. At some companies, this decision stems from a culture of social responsibility; at others, it may be part of an effort to improve their public image. Though few companies take public positions in favor of a particular candidate or party, still others may be hoping that their employees vote a certain way. It could also help boost employee engagement and perceptions of the organization; a recent study by O.C. Tanner found that US workers who get time off to vote have more positive things to say about their employers than those who don’t, HR Dive reported last week:
The Time to Vote campaign, announced on September 24, is a nonpartisan effort aimed at increasing voter participation in the US by getting companies to enable or encourage their employees to vote. Some 140 CEOs have signed on to the initiative, including the heads of some of the country’s largest private employers:
The U.S. has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the developed world, recently as low as 36 percent, and one of the most common reasons that people give for not voting is that they are too busy, or have work and life demands that prevent them from voting. To change this paradigm, a diverse coalition of companies including Kaiser Permanente, Levi Strauss & Co., Patagonia, PayPal, Tyson Foods and Walmart are coming together, starting with the November elections, to increase voter turnout.
The Time to Vote campaign also aims to increase awareness about the steps employers can take to allow time for their employees to vote. The companies joining this campaign are committed to increasing voter participation through programs such as paid time off, a day without meetings and resources for mail-in ballots and early voting. And all of them care about their workforces and supporting democracy.
Whereas many countries hold elections on weekends or make voting days public holidays to ensure that most voters can take part, election day in the US is observed on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November and is not a national holiday.
A Texas state appeals court last week temporarily blocked a local ordinance in the capital city of Austin requiring employers to provide paid sick leave from going into effect, the Texas Tribune reported:
[T]he measure quickly drew opposition from local and state leaders, including a lawsuit filed in April by the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation claiming that the city measure violates the Texas Minimum Wage Act. … The ordinance had been set to take effect Oct. 1.
“Without this stay, Austin business owners would be forced to incur significant costs implementing the requirements of the ordinance while its legality was in serious doubt,” said Robert Henneke, general counsel and litigation director for TPPF’s Center for the American Future. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has lent support to the lawsuit, also praised the news, saying the issue of minimum wage is “entrusted by the Texas Constitution solely to the Texas Legislature.”
Austin’s ordinance, which the city council passed in a 9–2 vote in February, has also faced opposition from Republicans in the state legislature, who promised at the time to pass legislation at the state level that would preempt it. Other states with conservative legislatures have taken similar measures to stop local governments from enacting liberal labor laws in the past year. Indiana banned cities from implementing “ban-the-box” laws, Missouri passed a preemption law to prevent cities like St. Louis from legislating higher minimum wages, and a Florida court found that a minimum wage increase in Miami Beach was preempted by state law.
New government data from the UK indicates that employees there are taking sick days off work at a historically low rate, Workplace Insight’s Neil Franklin reports:
A new report from the Office for National Statistics suggests that the number of sickness days taken by UK workers has almost halved over the past two decades to reach a record low. It dropped from an average of 7.2 days in 1993 to 4.1 days in 2017, and had been steadily falling since 1999. The total days lost for all workers last year was 131.2 million, down from 137.3 million in 2016 and 178.3 million in 1993. Since the recession, sickness absence rates have declined by 0.5 percentage points to 1.9 per cent last year. The reasons are not explored in the report but one possible explanation would be the growing number of people prepared to work when they should really take time off.
A report published in May by the CIPD and SimplyHealth on the state of health and wellbeing in the UK workplace found that presenteeism (workers showing up to work even when sick) was a growing problem, with 86 percent of employers saying they had seen staff come into work while sick over the previous year. That marked a significant increase from 72 percent in 2016 and just 26 percent in 2010, yet the same survey found that only a quarter of organizations that had seen signs of presenteeism had taken steps to mitigate it. The CIPD/SimplyHealth report also found that many employees were working while they were supposed to be on vacation, while other recent studies have suggested that many full-time UK employees aren’t taking the full paid leave benefit to which they are entitled.
Presenteeism could well be a factor in the trend identified by the ONS, Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, told Ashleigh Wight at Personnel Today.
A new analysis from the Trades Union Congress finds that one in 12 employees in the UK are not receiving the full amount of annual paid leave to which they are entitled by law, while 1.2 million are not getting any paid leave at all. Adam McCulloch highlights the repot at Personnel Today:
Agriculture (14.9%) was the sector where the highest proportion of workers was likely to miss out and retail was where the highest number of staff were losing out (348,000 people). … Employees are entitled to 28 days’ annual leave (pro rata) including public holidays but, according to the unions body, unrealistic workloads, managers failing to agree time off and a failure by businesses to keep up with the law was behind the high numbers losing out.
The TUC is urging HMRC to be given powers to clamp down on employers who deny staff their statutory holiday entitlement. This would include the power to ensure that workers are fully compensated for missed holidays.
The TUC report comes just a few months after a Glassdoor survey came out showing that only 43 percent of UK employees were using more than 90 percent of their holiday entitlement, while another 40 percent were using less than half of it. The TUC analysis was based on unpublished data from the Labour Force Survey conducted by the UK’s Office of National Statistics; Glassdoor’s figures came from a 2,000-person online survey carried out in April.
Whereas the Glassdoor survey focused on whether employees were using their leave entitlement, the TUC is more concerned with whether some employers are denying their workers the right to use it. “Employers have no excuse for robbing staff of their well-earned leave. UK workers put in billions of hours of unpaid overtime as it is, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said. “The government must toughen up enforcement to stop bosses cheating staff out of their leave.“
Independence Day is a highlight of the summer for many Americans. The holiday is traditionally celebrated with barbecues and fireworks, and is one of the busiest travel days of the year. Unfortunately, July 4 falls on a Wednesday this year; whereas in other years, employees typically enjoy three-day or four-day weekends, this year most are just getting one day off in the middle of the week. Most national holidays in the US, like Presidents’ Day or Memorial Day, are observed on a Monday so as to create a three-day weekend, but the Fourth of July is always celebrated on July 4.
This has led to some extra stress and logistical challenges for managers this week, as they have had to juggle numerous requests for additional vacation days from employees trying to carve out a longer holiday for themselves: A small survey from Office Pulse found that most employees were planning to take at least one extra day off and that one in five managers were overwhelmed by the amount of vacation requests they were getting. Meanwhile, among those employees who were not taking extra days off, 19 percent said they would be “extra tired” or “hungover” when they returned to work on Thursday—among Millennials, 30 percent.
(Of course, not all US employers offer paid vacation, so many employees can’t afford to take additional time off at all.)
On the positive side, those who are able to make a five-day weekend out of the holiday (or even take the whole week off) have more time to travel. Whether or not they do so depends partly on the economy: The last time the fourth fell on a Wednesday, in 2012, travel trends were stagnant, whereas they set a record the time before that, in 2007. This year, AAA expects the number of Independence Day travelers to set a record again, predicting that 46.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home this holiday.
A new law enacted in Vermont late last month extends employment protections to victims of crime, specifically targeting victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. The law, which goes into effect on July 1, makes employees who become victims of crimes a protected class and outlaws discrimination and retaliation against these employees, Jackson Lewis attorneys Martha Van Oot and Samuel V. Maxwell explain at Lexology:
In addition, the new law carves out circumstances upon which “crime victims” are allowed to take unpaid leave from employment. These circumstances … include allowing the employee to attend:
- A deposition or other court proceeding relating to a criminal proceeding where the employee is a “victim” and the employee has a right or obligation to appear at the proceeding;
- A relief from abuse hearing pursuant to 15 V.S.A. §1103 [a state domestic relations abuse prevention law] when the employee seeks relief as the plaintiff;
- A hearing concerning an order against stalking or sexual assault when the employee seeks relief as the plaintiff; or
- A hearing seeking relief from abuse, neglect, or exploitation when the employee seeks relief as the plaintiff.
The statute allows the employee to use accrued sick, vacation, or any other accrued paid leave in lieu of taking unpaid leave.
In this regard, Vermont’s law is similar to laws recently passed in other states and jurisdictions giving employees a right to use their paid sick leave as “safe leave” for court dates, counseling, or other matters related to addressing or protecting themselves from domestic violence. New York City amended its paid sick leave mandate to that effect last year, while Maryland and New Jersey included safe leave provisions in their new sick leave laws. California, Washington, and Minnesota also give employees the right to use their paid sick leave for these purposes, as do the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario. The only country that has a statutory safe leave entitlement at the national level is the Philippines, where it is spottily enforced, but Australian lawmakers are proposing to enact one as well.