Our company has a plant in a rural area. Some of our employees have a long commute to work. Do we have to let employees come in late or leave work early on Election Day so they can vote? If we don't, some of them might not get to their polling place on time to cast a ballot.
State law determines whether you have to give employees time off to vote. Most states require employers to do so. As you point out, employees might not have a chance to vote at all otherwise, depending on their shift schedule, their commute, and their polling place.
The rules vary from state to state. Generally, employers must allow employees to take two or three hours off, with pay, to cast their ballots. However, most states require employers to make this time available only to employees who don't have a couple of hours of nonwork time before or after their shifts when they can vote. In other words, if the employee could get to the polling place to vote before or after work, then the employer isn't required to give the employee time off.
Some states put a couple of controls on this right. For example, employees in some states must request time off to vote in advance. And, some states allow employers to deduct the time taken off for voting from the employee's pay unless the employee can show proof of voting. In other words, time off to vote is paid only if the employee actually used that time to vote.
Pulling the lever (or punching the chad or marking with the pen) in the voting booth is a valued right of citizenship in our country. Perhaps that's why these voting leave laws remain on the books, even though employees could easily cast an absentee ballot without disrupting their work schedules. But this could be changing. In what may be a sign of the times, the state of Washington recently repealed its law giving employees time off to vote. In Washington, everyone must now vote by mail, rather than standing in line at the polling place to cast a ballot. If more states follow suit, we can expect to see these voting leave laws disappear. In the meantime, however, make sure your company is following your state's rules; you can find them at Taking Time Off to Vote.