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The ESG Benefit of Giving Employees Paid Time Off to Work at the Polls

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With the U.S. midterm elections just weeks away, increasing numbers of employees are being encouraged to serve civil society helping repair the world.

There are a myriad of possible elements in the “S” (Social) component of ESG, but what they have in common is they are about social relationships, from a business’ relationship with its employees to its relationship with the community and the broader society.

We widely recommend, in ESG programs we craft for businesses, one positive and almost universally well received practice to further ESG Social factors is giving employees a paid day off to work at the polls on Election Day.

Old Navy, which has more than 1,000 retail locations, has announced that as it did for the 2020 election, it will pay store employees who serve as poll workers in 2022 elections (.. and many of those will also be eligible to be paid by local boards of elections).

In the 2020 election year, to encourage employees to vote, it was widely reported in the media that more than 800 companies signed the “Time to Vote” pledge allocating time for staffers to vote during their workday. However, many saw that as little more than pandering given that more than 30 states require by law employers give workers time off to vote on election day. And while nice, allowing employees to leave work 2 hours early to vote does not create the culture shift needed to increase participation in our democracy, and this is not what we advocate for our ESG clients (.. and might even be characterized as greenwashing).

The 2020 “Power the Polls” initiative to recruit polling place workers at a time of a poll worker shortage where most poll workers are over age 60 and stayed away during the pandemic, is of course a good thing (.. even at a time more states are moving to a vote by mail option), but again not enough to move large numbers of people toward action in our representative democracy, not enough given the larger polarization across America, and not fast enough or far enough to repair the world.

In addition to those efforts in the last election cycle, we are now seeing a ground swell of companies allowing employees to not only work as a board of election’s poll worker, but also to leaflet and stand outside the voting place advocating for a cause or candidates the employee believes in!

Companies are encouraging employees to be active citizens in the voting process which is the cornerstone of our representative democracy. And this at the same time increasing numbers of people want their voices to be heard, on everything from local school board elections to reproductive rights issues, large numbers of Americans are passionate about the causes, maybe more than at any time since the anti-war marches of the 1970s. But appreciate since in 1845 when Congress mandated a uniform national election day to prevent information from one state from influencing voters in another, the practice of working outside the polls to advocate for a candidate or issue has been ingrained in our democracy, .. note, this very much American practice is not permitted in most countries around the world.

Moreover, this push has been popular with younger workers who often wear their greater ethical awareness on their sleeves but statistically have the lowest voter turnout.

So, to respond to the contemporary belief that companies should improve the well-being of everyone they impact, to drive a culture shift needed to increase participation in and strengthen our democracy, bigger numbers of forward thinking companies are giving employees “a paid day off to work at the polls on election day” without condition or limitation. That is, allowing the employee to choose to be a poll worker for the local election board, to work for a candidate on election day, to campaign for an issue or cause at a polling place on election day, or however else the employee chooses to work at the polls.

This is tenet of Eighteenth century liberalism meets 2022 American political silos. In the divisive political environment we find ourselves in during 2022, this is a low risk strategy for addressing the S in ESG from social trends to politics (including cynically, scoring points in ESG ratings), without the business itself being partisan and offending stakeholders.

The company benefits in paying employees to work at the polls, with what will ultimately be a more sustainable world when it allows, if not encourages, employees to serve civil society improving government and helping repair the world.

A live webinar “Net Zero Pledges by Businesses,” 30 talking points in 30 minutes, Wednesday, October 26 at 9 am EST presented by Stuart Kaplow and Nancy Hudes on behalf of ESG Legal Solutions, LLC. The webinar is complimentary, but you must register here.

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