Following is a recent OPM memo to agencies regarding use of excused absence for federal employees to vote.
This memorandum provides agencies with information on the Federal Government’s longstanding policy of granting employees limited time off from work (i.e., excused absence) to vote in Federal, State, county, or municipal elections, or in referendums on any civic matter in their community. The head of each agency (or his or her designee) has discretion to grant excused absence in limited circumstances under his or her broad authority to govern, unless otherwise prohibited by law. Agencies have discretionary authority to grant excused absence to the extent that such time off does not interfere with agency operations, including the ability to adjust policies to circumstances as they unfold. Typically, polling places throughout the United States are open for extended periods of time, and an increasing number of jurisdictions are offering early voting options. Therefore, excused absence should rarely be needed. Agencies should consider the following guidelines when creating their policies on excused absence for voting in the upcoming election.
Granting Excused Absence for Voting
Generally, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has advised agencies that where the polls are not open at least 3 hours either before or after an employee’s regular work hours, an agency may grant a limited amount of excused absence to permit the employee to report for work 3 hours after the polls open or leave from work 3 hours before the polls close, whichever requires the lesser amount of time off. An employee’s “regular work hours” should be determined by reference to the time of day the employee normally arrives at and departs from work.
For example, if an employee is scheduled to work from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the employee’s polling place is open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., the employee should not be granted excused absence for voting, since the employee would still have at least 3 hours after the end of his or her workday to vote. However, if an employee is scheduled to work from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the employee’s polling place is open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., the employee may be granted ½ hour of excused absence from 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., if requested.
Employees on Alternative Work Schedules whose regular day off is scheduled for the day polls are open should not be permitted to change their regular day off solely for the purpose of gaining excused absence for voting.
Extended Commuting Distance
If an employee’s voting place is beyond normal commuting distance and vote by absentee ballot is not permitted, the agency may grant excused absence (not to exceed 1 day) to allow the employee to make the trip to the voting place to cast a ballot. If more than 1 day is needed, the employee may request annual leave or leave without pay for the additional period of absences.
An increasing number of jurisdictions offer a period prior to the day of the election during which voters may cast ballots early. Some employees may find it necessary to vote during this early period because of work requirements on the day of the election. Others, such as those on Alternative Work Schedules, may find it convenient to vote during these early voting periods.
Agencies should grant excused absence for early voting only when (1) the employee will be unable to vote on the day of the election because of activities directly related to the agency’s mission (such as Temporary Duty (TDY) travel) and cannot vote by absentee ballot, or (2) early voting hours are the same as, or exceed, voting hours on the day of the election, in which case the information provided under “Granting Excused Absence for Voting” applies. If an employee chooses to vote earlier, but the hours in which polling places are open are shorter than on Election Day, the employee is not eligible for excused absence because the employee has opted to vote at that time.