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Politics at work: Know state law on voting leave, political speech

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in Office Management,Payroll Management

Federal laws are silent on the issue, but 31 states require private companies to give employees time off to vote if the polls are closed during the employee's off-work time.

Paid time off typically doesn't need to be provided if the polls are open a certain amount of time, usually two or three hours, while the employee is off duty. To read your state's law on this issue, click on a map at www.toolkit.cch.com/text/p05_4335.asp.

Also, the lead-up to Election Day typically sparks water cooler debates, button wearing, etc. Don't try to quell this distraction by putting a political gag order on employees. This is impossible to enforce, and you could open yourself up to a lawsuit.

The Constitution guarantees em-ployees that the government won't stifle their speech, but it says nothing about private employers. However, if a court decides that you have retaliated against a worker because of his political expression, you lose.

Why? Protecting an employee's political expression is an important "public policy" concern, on par with protecting employees who perform jury duty.

Your goal: Draft a policy that minimizes distractions while allowing a worker's free speech, then explain it to your staff. Restrict only political expressions that might affect productivity or customer relations. Be consistent with all employees.

Finally, steer clear of trying to direct an employee toward one candidate, it could backfire. Reason: Almost every state has a law that forbids employers from using threats or employment consequences to influence an employee's vote.

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