It was nearing 4:30 yesterday, and Keith Brown and Mellissa Johnson were finally squeezing out of the downtown dentist office where they work to go home and vote. In a workplace like theirs, with patients waiting, taking time off to vote during the workday simply wasn't an option.
Trying to vote before work was a bust, too: There were 300 people in line at the Southern Maryland polls when hygienist Johnson arrived there at 7 a.m. "I thought that I could sneak out and go at lunch," she added with a shrug. But the appointment book was full and the parking garage wouldn't allow reentry.
Workplaces in many parts of the Washington area were a little different yesterday, both because employees arrived late or left early to vote, and once they were in the office, it wasn't easy to concentrate.
At Verizon Wireless, for instance, employees spent their lunch hour in the cafeteria, watching the television news coverage of the massive voter turnout throughout the country, a spokesman said, and were given time off at the beginning or the end of the work day, if they needed it, to get to the polls to cast their ballots.
Virginia and the District have no provisions for employees to take time off work to vote. Maryland allows all employees two hours of paid time off to vote if needed. Federal employees get up to three hours off. In many countries, Election Day is a national holiday, or the vote is held on the weekend. Here, most companies just allow a little wiggle room.
"I think most employers should encourage employees to be good citizens," said Deborah Keary, director of the Information Center at the Society for Human Resource Management. And if employees wandered in to work late, or asked to leave early? "I think they shouldn't be upset. Most employers realize lines are long. They shouldn't be surprised . . . a little flexibility once every four years is not too much to ask."
For the second presidential election in a row, General Motors Corp. gave all its 150,000 U.S. employees the day off to vote, stopping production at its domestic plants. "There are other holidays throughout the course of the year that don't mess up business, so I don't think it's unusual that there is a day off," said company spokeswoman Toni Simonetti.
Washington's Corporate Executive Board encouraged its 1,300 employees via the company's intranet to take some time to vote, but only if they first cleared it with their managers. "It's critical that we give them the time and space to do the things that are important," said Peter Buer, chief administrative officer.
The company also allowed the space for a little political bantering, Buer said. "It's a good day, people have stickers on their chest, and there are plenty of arguments."
Chris Jones, founder of PoliTemps, a political staffing firm based in the District, said he's lucky one of his employees is registered in New York and voted by absentee ballot. So she could open the office, answer phones and otherwise keep the company running as Jones and other workers stood in line waiting to vote.
"We didn't roll in until 9 or 10," Jones said. And even then, focusing on work was an issue.
"We're sort of in that Friday afternoon mode. People are surfing, checking in with each other. They're excited to get out of work," he said. "I've been checking headlines and checking in with C-SPAN. Then I have to bring myself back and say I have a business to run. . . ."