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Election day on a work day; democracy dampens productivity

Voting doesn’t cost money, but it does take time away from making money.

Voters can be late to work because they were at the polls. Or perhaps they leave work early to get to the polls. And many workers will be sneaking peaks at online reports, reading commentary or talking with colleagues about the election.

The upshot will be that the celebration of democracy also – however briefly – dampens American productivity.

“Many workers will be laser-focused on election coverage that day, likely while they are at work,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

VIDEO: More on voting in Georgia

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Three Ways to Vote in Georgia

More than 128 million people will be working Tuesday, many of them engaged and worried about the election, Challenger said. “The cost could reach $3.5 billion per hour.” He thinks Election Day should be a national holiday, an issue election access have pushed for years without much success.

Challenger survey of human resources executives in late October found 29 percent of employers receiving requests from employees for time off to vote.

Some states do require companies to allow time to vote, others have no requirement.

Nearly 60 percent of companies allow workers time off to vote, according to the Challenger survey. The survey found that 32 percent of companies expect workers to vote on their own time.

In Georgia, an employer is required by law to allow a worker up to two hours to vote, according to Workplace Fairness, a Maryland-based non-profit group supporting employee rights.

An employer has the right to decide when the time will be taken and if employers do not abide by the law, Georgia provides no penalties, the organization said.

Perhaps because of the hyper-partisan atmosphere surrounding this election, some businesses and groups were reluctant to discuss the issue. For example, the Metro Atlanta Chamber declined comment.

But a spokesman for Coca-Cola said the company wanted its employees “engaged” and had arranged opportunities to meet the major party candidates for governor.

“We are encouraging employees to vote and work with their managers to find the right time for them to vote,” he said. “While we are a nonpartisan company and do not endorse any specific party, we do emphasize the importance of voting.”

Home Depot, the largest Georgia-based company, also supports involvement, said company spokesman Stephen Holmes.

“We certainly comply with any laws, but we want our associates to vote regardless of any legal requirements,” Holmes said.

In some countries, including Switzerland, Brazil, France and Germany, elections are not scheduled on a workday, according to Marketplace. In the United States, there are periodic efforts to make election day a holiday – either shuttering businesses and government on Tuesday or moving it to a weekend.

In 2016, a group called Take Tuesday raised the argument.

This year, the call was taken up by Vote.org, a non-partisan organization trying to get more people to vote. However, a spokeswoman for the organization recently told Time magazine that it would be far easier than creating a national holiday – and perhaps better – to convince companies to let workers have the time they needed to vote.

And some companies are already taking action on their own.

Atlanta-based Farm Burger will delay opening on Tuesday at its 12 locations until 12:30 p.m., giving up about $8,000 in profits, a spokeswoman said.

After Farm Burger opens that day, anyone wearing an “I voted” sticker will get a free side order of fries.

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