Former presidents, pro sports teams and pop singers aren’t the only ones calling for Americans to make sure to vote Nov. 6: More employers, too, are taking an increasingly active role in trying to get their workers to the polls on Election Day.
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 companywide 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.
Many employers have held get-out-the-vote drives or encouraged workers to vote in past elections, and some companies have even made Election Day a corporate holiday. But in a year when interest in the midterm elections has reached a fever pitch, nonprofits that are focused on voter turnout say they’re seeing a noticeable uptick in the enthusiasm and creative approaches that many employers are using this year to get more workers to the polls — whether by closing stores or offices, making paid time off or flexible work arrangements available, or by trying to remove obstacles to voting, such as securing transportation for workers or discouraging meetings for the day.
There are also several efforts by businesses or get-out-the-vote nonprofits that have been pushing the issue in campaigns this year. More than 135 employers, including Walmart, Gap Inc. and Farmers Insurance, announced in September a “Time to Vote” campaign aimed at increasing awareness about what employers can do to allow time for employees to vote. It followed a call in June by Rose Marcario, the chief executive of outdoor retailer Patagonia, which grabbed headlines for closing its stores and giving workers paid time off for 2016′s Election Day — something it will do again this year — and has been encouraging other employers to follow its lead.
Meanwhile, a Vote.org project launched in March known as ElectionDay.org has gotten more than 250 employers, such as Pinterest or spirits maker Diageo, to sign on to offer some kind of paid time off or flexible leave on Election Day. TurboVote Challenge, an initiative by the nonpartisan group Democracy Works to involve employers in trying to boost voter turnout, said its number of corporate business partners grew from 18 in 2016 to 40 this year.
“The enthusiasm from our corporate partners is exceptional for a midterm election,” said Mike Ward, TurboVote’s program director. “Honestly, if you had asked me in March 2016 what we expected to be happening in October of 2018, I would have expected way, way less.”
Others said employers are making internal policy changes. “In the past, companies have assumed this was something that was taken care of from a legal standpoint,” said Colette Kessler, director of partnerships for Vote.org, a nonpartisan group that seeks to increase voter turnout.
More recently, she said in an interview, companies have been taking an inventory of their policies and looking for creative ways to prevent work excuses from keeping people from the polls. “The shift I’m seeing is an interest in really understanding what do they provide, what are the holes in their states' laws they can make up.”
A spokeswoman for online weddings marketplace WeddingWire, for instance, said it had declared Nov. 6 a “no meetings” day to “minimize any barriers to voting,” which will make it easier for employees to go to the polls and not be able to use a full calendar as an excuse. (A 2014 Pew Research Center report found 35 percent of surveyed voters said conflicts with work or school schedules got in the way of voting.)
There are no federal laws requiring employers to give workers time off to vote. State regulations vary, from having no laws on the subject to mandating paid time off for several hours, according to the nonprofit Workplace Fairness. Many do not have consequences, however, for noncompliance, and even those states that do specify offering paid time off may require it only if employees don’t have enough time to vote before or after work.
Companies and staffers for get-out-the-vote nonprofits cite several reasons for the ramped up interest from employers, reasons that go beyond the heightened attention this year’s election is receiving. For instance, in an era where chief executives are speaking out about issues like immigration, climate change and gun control, there’s a greater expectation from employees that their companies get involved with civic responsibilities.
“I think the energy that’s coming from employees is helping companies dive in a little bit faster than they have in the past,” said Ashley Spillane, an advisory board member to the Civic Responsibility Project, a nonprofit project of the New Venture Fund that supports businesses focused on increasing civic participation.
Other businesses are using such efforts in part to reinforce branding messages that they want to send to employees or clients. Marketing agency Carmichael Lynch, based in Minneapolis, where state laws say employees have the right to take time off to vote without losing their pay, personal leave or vacation time, is giving its workers a half of the day off and adding tag lines to email signatures about its “Out of Office/Into Office” initiative. Chief executive Marcus Fischer said in an interview that, for its employees, the majority of whom are millennials, it’s “another affirmation that you’ve made the right choice by being here."
While such time-off-to-vote initiatives can be simple for companies with mostly office workers, it’s more complicated for retailers or restaurant companies with hourly paid service workers unless they shut their doors entirely. The restaurant group Cava is offering it anyway, telling its employees that, as long as they have given their manager two weeks' notice, they can take two hours of paid time off at the beginning or end of their shift on Election Day.
Co-founder Ted Xenohristos said Cava believes it is one of the first national restaurant groups to have such a policy, and what it costs will depend on how many of his employees choose to vote. For him, what matters is that they do.
“As first-generation Americans, we’re proud to participate in the system,” he said. “We wanted to share that with our team members and make it a little easier for them to vote.”