Get out and vote, small business owners tell employees

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Voters walk to a polling precinct on primary day in Florida for the U.S. presidential election in Boca Raton, Florida March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper - RTSAI0H

Voters walk to a polling precinct on primary day in Florida for the U.S. presidential election in Boca Raton, Florida March 15, 2016. Photo by Joe Skipper/Reuters

NEW YORK — Reports of long lines for early voting persuaded Darlene Hollywood — she’s giving her 13 employees at Hollywood Public Relations the morning of Election Day off.

“I don’t want people to feel they have to make a choice of, ‘I need to get to the office’ or ‘I can participate in my civic duty,'” says Hollywood, whose firm is based in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Small business owners who want to make it easy for their staffers to vote are giving them flex time, balloting breaks, or, like Hollywood, opening late. Some, joining a list of companies of all sizes that includes giants like General Motors and Ford, will be closed for the whole day. Owners say they want to encourage everyone to vote — some saying the intense emotions in the presidential race this year make it particularly significant and others that they feel it’s important to be involved in what happens in their country, state and city.

Many states have laws requiring employers to give workers time off to vote, and some of those states require that employees be paid if they have to vote during working hours. There is no federal law granting workers the right to voting time off. But many owners aren’t motivated strictly by the law.

On past Election Days, Brenda Jones Barwick saw employees hurrying to get their work done at the end of the day and hoping they’d still have time to vote.

“People were rushing out of here at 6:30 trying to get in line before the polls closed at 7,” says Barwick, owner of Jones Public Relations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

This year, she’s decided that neither her 20 staffers nor the company itself needs a chaotic day. So she won’t open the office until 10 a.m. on Election Day. Jones plans to email clients to let them know and hopes the idea spreads: “I’m encouraging other companies to do the same.”

After giving staffers time during the day to vote in past elections, Dan Golden decided this year to close his Chicago-based internet advertising firm, Be Found Online. He wants to be sure that none of his 50 employees has any excuse not to vote, including those who are sounding disaffected in this emotionally charged election year.

“I’m hoping to influence the number of employees who weren’t going to bother,” says Golden, the company’s president.

Golden, who wants other companies to give workers voting time off, is campaigning via a website, www.employersforvto.org . He’d also like to see Election Day made a national holiday.

“The best we can do is empower our employees to do what’s right and make it easier for them, so work isn’t an excuse,” he says.

Some bosses are letting employees decide when to take time off to vote, even if it’s in the middle of the day.

“Regardless of what you are doing, feel free to get up and go vote — it’s your right,” Chris Pontine has told the two employees of his Fort Gratiot, Michigan-based company, Creating a Website Today. He calls his policy, which he’s had since he started his company in 2012, a simple approach.

With early voting underway in Idaho, Jessica Flynn has told her 12 staffers they can take the time to vote on any day, not just Nov. 8.

“They can do it this afternoon or on Election Day,” says Flynn, CEO of Red Sky, a communications strategy firm based in Boise. “Whenever they need to, whenever they want to.”

She wants them to be involved, concerned voters.

“I see it as part of our company’s mission to help grow and support engaged, curious and knowledgeable citizens of the world,” she says.

Joe Laskowski, managing partner at Higher Ed Growth in Tempe, Arizona, recalls past voting that had people in line for hours waiting to cast their ballots. He doesn’t want employees at the firm, which helps colleges form their marketing strategies, to feel under pressure.

“We don’t care if you’re late or take a long lunch,” Laskowski says, “just get it done to have a voice.”

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