Iowa's Voting Leave Law helps Iowa employees "Get Out the Vote"

Russ Samson Dickinson Law Des Moines, Iowa Dickinson Law Des Moines, Iowa Iowa Employment & Labor

Posted on 11/04/2016 at 12:22 PM by Russell Samson

In 2012, we wrote about Iowa’s voting leave law.  As a reminder, Iowa Code Section 49.109 requires that a person who is otherwise entitled to vote in a general election has a right to request that s/he not be required to be present at work for at least three consecutive hours between the time of the polls open and the time they close.   

  • Under Iowa’s law, the polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. for a general election such as that of Tuesday, November 8, 2016.
  • If an Iowa employee’s scheduled hours of work for Tuesday, November 8, 2016 are such that there is a block of three consecutive hours of time off between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. the employee’s statutory right is met.  For example, a person who works the proverbial 9-to-5 has a four-hour block from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. when s/he is not required to be present at work.  The fact that there are only two hours from 7 a.m. until 9 a.m. is not material.
  • If an Iowa employee’s work schedule for the November 8, 2016, general election is such that there is not a three-consecutive hour block of time off of work, then s/he is entitled to apply for paid time off from work in an amount such that the requirement for a three-hour block of time off from work is met.  For example, if an employee is scheduled to work from 9 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., the three-hour block could be met by delaying the start until 10:00 a.m. or by moving up the quitting time to 6:00 p.m.
  • An Iowa employee who wants to exercise this right to a three-hour block of time off from work must make an individual written application for the leave and do so “prior to the date of the election.”  We are not told how far in advance the application is required, so it probably could be as late as 11:59 p.m. on Monday, November 7, 2016.
  • Upon receipt of a written application from an Iowa employee, it is the absolute right of the employer to designate the period of time to be taken.  Employers can permit some employees to come in later than their normal starting time, and others to leave work before their normal quitting time.  An employer can even designate a block of time in the middle of the normal schedule.  That said, the time away from scheduled work must be paid, and the individual must be given a block of three consecutive hours when he or she is not required to be at work.
  • Absent either some constraint like a union contract which establishes general starting and stopping times or some general operating requirements of a particular business, an employer is most certainly free to modify the work schedule on November 8, 2016 to make sure that everyone has the three-hour block of time. But an employer need not modify schedules for the entire workforce to accommodate voting leave requests. 
  • Setting aside the “three consecutive hours” standard in Iowa’s voting leave law, an employer might consider the wisdom of setting aside some time – maybe 30 minutes tacked on to a coffee break or a meal period in the middle of the standard working day – to permit employees to leave and vote on November 8, 2016. While the statute has a three-consecutive-hour standard, most employees will not need a full three hours to leave work, vote and return to work.

The three consecutive hours for not being at work so employees can vote goes back at least to the Code of Iowa of 1897.  That was Iowa’s law before the first production Ford Model T rolled off an assembly line on October 1, 1908, which in turn was only two weeks before the Chicago Cubs beat the Detroit Tigers to win the World Series on October 14, 1908.  The world has changed a lot since 1897 and 1908, not the least of which is the Chicago Cubs won its next World Series Championship.  While having three consecutive hours away from work may have made horse sense when the standard was initially established, with paved roads, the electrification of the state, and absentee ballots / early voting, is it still critical? 

Although the Iowa voting law might need updating, employers must comply with as it exists today.  An employer who either fails to give an Iowa employee who requests it in writing time off from work such that the employee has the three-consecutive hours provided by statute, or who reduces an Iowa employee’s wages because the employee has exercised the privilege of an Iowa voting leave, is guilty of election misconduct in the fourth degree. 

The material in this blog is not intended, nor should it be construed or relied upon, as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney if specific legal information is needed.

- Russ Samson


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