What is Civic Time Off? Behind the New Fringe Benefit

With election day approaching, how can you encourage civic engagement without taking a political stance? It’s time to consider offering civic time off.

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what is civic time off?

A major responsibility that accompanies living in a democracy is civic engagement– including voting! However, participation in things like voting, volunteering for a candidate, attending a school board meeting, and canvassing can be tough to schedule around a full-time job, let alone the multiple jobs that many Americans have these days. One way that a variety of companies, from small businesses to behemoths like GM, create time for their employees to accomplish activities like these is by offering civic time off, or CTO for short. Never heard of it? Here’s a crash course of civic time off and why it’s important.

What is civic time off?

Civic time off is a form of paid time off which allows employees to engage in a variety of civic activities and duties. While CTO is a relatively new fringe benefit, companies are taking to it quickly. Many companies, especially Silicon Valley tech companies, are opting to give their employees the entire day off on voting days, as many chose to do during the last presidential election.

First, it’s important to note that jury duty is the only civic activity companies are required, by federal law, to allow their employees to engage in. The federal government doesn’t require that employers pay employees for the time they take off to participate in jury duty, but many states mandate it on the local level, so be sure to check your state’s regulations. 

However, just because the federal system doesn’t carve out times for things like canvassing, doesn’t mean that activities like this aren’t an important part of your employee’s lives and values. Often, having the ability to participate in the civic duties they hold near and dear without worrying about consequences at work can show your employees that you value their opinions and time. This can only help your retention rates.

What activities are eligible for civic time off?

There are no hard and fast rules about the activities that are eligible for civic time off (besides the mandates that surround jury duty, of course). This means that companies get to decide for themselves what qualifies and what doesn’t. For companies that prefer to avoid public political biases (for the sake of their public image, the varying view of their employees, etc.), offering CTO is a great way for your company to be politically active and support your employees’ engagement without taking a political stand.

Ultimately it’s up to the employer to define what is and is not eligible for civic time off. A good general guideline to remember is that if it’s important to your employees, it should be important to you.

How do I manage my employees’ civic time off?

If you’re ready to offer CTO to your employees but you’re not sure where to start, Drexel University has a civic engagement leave policy, which is a great place to start. At the university, “civic engagement leave is defined as an excused absence of up to sixteen (16) hours within a 12-month fiscal year period once approved by the Professional Staff Member’s immediate supervisor and Department Head.”

There are a few things to consider when creating guidelines around your CTO. How much notice will you require your employees to give their supervisors to request time off? How and from whom will they have to get approval for their CTO? How many CTO hours are they allowed during the course of a given time frame?

The best aspect of new benefits like CTO is that there don’t exist many established norms around them. Indulge in the freedom to craft the kind of policy best suits your small business best!

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