Elections and Michigan Employment Law
The midterm elections are fast approaching, and with it come all sorts of questions about employee rights when it comes to voting. It is not uncommon for employees and employers to have differing political views and priorities. We get calls all the time asking what an employer is and is not allowed to do when it comes to elections and an employee’s right to vote.
Question- Does my employer have to allow me time off of work to vote in an election?
More than half of the states in this country require employers to allow employees time off to vote, often with pay. Michigan is not one of them. If you are an employee working in the State of Michigan, there is no state or federal law that requires your employer to give you time off to vote, paid or unpaid. However, many employers decide to allow employees time off to vote, even though it is not required by law.
The polls in Michigan are open on election day from 7:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. If you are not able to leave work to vote, you have a window of 13 hours to try to find a time that does work for you.
Question- Can my employer tell me how to vote?
Yes and no. There is a Michigan law, MCL 168.931, that prohibits certain conduct with respect to elections. That law contains the following prohibitions:
“A person shall not, either directly or indirectly, give, lend, or promise valuable consideration, to or for any person, as an inducement to influence the manner of voting by a person relative to a candidate or ballot question, or as a reward for refraining from voting.”
“A person shall not, either directly or indirectly, discharge or threaten to discharge an employee of the person for the purpose of influencing the employee’s vote at an election.”
This means that it is illegal for your employer, or anyone else, to buy your vote, or pay you to not vote. It also means that your employer cannot fire or threaten to fire you to try to get you to vote a certain way.
However, employers, like everyone else, have certain rights with respect to freedom of speech. Your boss can legally tell you how he or she intends to vote, or even how certain election results may affect the business as a whole. That speech crosses the line only if it gets to the point of threats or bribes to try to influence your vote.
Question- Can my employer fire me for expressing my political beliefs?
Freedom of speech means that the government cannot restrict your speech or punish you for what you say (with a few limited exceptions). It does not mean that you can say anything you want and keep your job. In most situations, political speech is not considered a “protected activity” such that you cannot be fired for it. Your employer can usually fire you for talking about how you intend to vote, asking other people about their political beliefs, or talking about politics in general.
There are a few exceptions where you cannot be fired for political speech. First, if you work for a government agency, you do have some limited First Amendment rights when it comes to speech and employment. Second, speech that is political but also contains a religious aspect to it, such as talking about a religious basis that you have for a certain political view, would have the same protections as any other religious speech. Finally, the National Labor Relations Act grants employees the right to engage in collective bargaining. Political speech that constitutes collective bargaining, such as employees talking amongst themselves about how election results would affect their working environment, would be protected.
If you have questions about your rights when it comes to voting an employment, or have any other employment law issue, call Gold Star Law today.