Employers, Employees and Elections

The nonstop robo calls and the unending barrage of political advertising in the media and mail provide a constant reminder that the November elections are fast approaching. That also means it is a good time to review some of the prohibitions and requirements relating to employee voting rights and political activity under Wisconsin law to ensure compliance this election season.

Wisconsin employers are required to grant time off without pay to employees on Election Day in two circumstances. First, employees have the right to be absent from work for to up to 3 hours while the polls are open in order to vote. Employees who want time off to vote must notify the employer before Election Day and the employer can designate the time off period.

Second, employers are required to grant time off without pay for the entire 24 hour period of Election Day to any employee who is appointed to serve as an election official/poll worker, if the employee provides the employer at least 7 days’ advance notice. If an employer wants to verify the employee’s appointment as an election official, the employer can request verification from the municipal clerk.

Employers must also avoid a variety of unlawful threats or promises. Under Wisconsin law, an employer may not make a threat or offer an inducement to prevent an employee from serving as an election official. An employer is also prohibited from distributing any printed matter to employees containing any threat that if a particular party or candidate is elected or any referendum is adopted or rejected, the employer will shut down operations, in whole or in part, that employee wages will be reduced or any other threat intended to influence employees’ political opinions and actions. Employers also may not cause employees to make a political contribution by threats or promises regarding employment, loss of employment, wages, or other employment benefits.

A 2009 amendment to the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act provides that it is unlawful employment discrimination for an employer to discharge or otherwise discriminate against an employee who declines to attend an employer-sponsored meeting where the primary purpose is to communicate the employer’s opinion about religious or political matters. Threats to discharge or take other action against an employee as a means to require the employee to attend such a meeting are also prohibited.

As a final note that probably won’t come as a surprise, the City of Madison has an additional prohibition for Madison employers. The Madison Equal Opportunities Ordinance prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of an employee’s “political beliefs.” Under the Ordinance, “political beliefs” has a very broad definition and means “one’s opinion, manifested in speech or association, concerning the social, economic and governmental structure of society and its institutions.”

[1] This article does not address political activity by a Company or political contributions.  Go to the ABC website at http://abcvotes.com/ for information on do’s and don’ts to help companies stay “legal” during the 2012 election cycle.

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