26

Obviously an employer absolutely can't require employees to vote for any particular candidate (or even to vote for any candidate rather than spoiling their ballot), but if it was included as a clause in employees' contracts that they must (in company time) attend the appropriate polling station and "participate" in some defined set of elections (eg "all local and national governmental elections and referenda"), and that failing to do so was a disciplinary offence, would such a clause be enforceable? Would an employer legitimately be able to fire someone for failing to comply?

Looking for answers in relation to the UK.

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    How would you go about proving that someone had not voted? – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Sep 16 at 15:47
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    I suspect the answer to this question is no, as in the UK, the right to vote includes the right not to vote. I'll leave it to others to provide evidence of that, but in the meantime: what about employees who vote by post? – Steve Melnikoff Sep 16 at 16:21
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    So what happens to employees who aren't eligible to vote (e.g. those under 18, immigrants, etc.)? Do they just get stuck at work for an extra hour, covering for everyone who is out voting? – Kenneth K. Sep 17 at 13:40
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    can I compel my employees to vote? If you threaten anyone with something that is none of your business, you are well on your way to becoming the most hated boss in the company. If you care, give them time off to vote. – Mattman944 Sep 18 at 8:43
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    What kind of tyrant would want to compel an employee to vote? This might be the worst idea I've ever heard from an employer. Even learning an employer wished they could compel employees to vote would make me want to leave the company as soon as possible. – bubbleking Sep 18 at 15:46
52

Nobody so far has discussed Electoral law e.g. Representation of the People Act 1983

There are various clauses that may be relevant, one of which is:

A voter shall be guilty of bribery if before or during an election he directly or indirectly by himself or by any other person on his behalf receives, agrees, or contracts for any money, gift, loan or valuable consideration, office, place or employment for himself or for any other person for voting or agreeing to vote or for refraining or agreeing to refrain from voting.

Subsection 2 similarly makes it an offence to offer employment to induce any voter to vote or refrain from voting but somewhat less concisely. I believe this would make such a contract unenforceable.

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    Presumably unenforceable because by requiring the employee to sign a contract including such a clause, you are compelling them to commit an offence? – Stephen Sep 17 at 16:05
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    @Stephen - The way I read this, both parties to the transaction would be "guilty of bribery". – T.E.D. Sep 17 at 16:25
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    @BillK encouraging people to vote is okay, bribing them to do so is not. – Chieron Sep 18 at 11:24
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    @BillK You can encourage them to vote (e.g. give everyone a half-day's paid leave on Voting Day, and send emails or put up posters in the office to "remind" people), but you can't include it in the employment contract as a requirement. Choosing not to vote is a valid political belief - for example, if you believe that NONE of the available candidates represent you (e.g. if your MP is the Speaker of the House of Commons, and is essentially running unopposed...) – Chronocidal Sep 18 at 12:23
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    @BillK You got it -- giving them the time off doesn't force them to use it to vote. Some countries even make Election Day a national holiday, which makes it easier to vote, but still doesn't force them. – Barmar Sep 18 at 18:16
31

Enforcement by firing a person could be a problem. There are specific allowed reasons to fairly fire an employee, which does not include "failure to vote". The description of unfair reasons includes, as an example, joining a trade union, and other actions that have some imaginable connection to the workplace. But the government has not clearly declared that political expression (or its lack) is or is not fair grounds for dismissal. Such a firing would be subject to scrutiny under the unfair dismissal doctrine, which means that the two sides would seek supporting analogs in UK case law.

The factors that favor a "fairness" finding are heavily weighted towards the legitimate business interests of an employer. This article analyzes free speech rights in connection with the unfair dismissal doctrine. As an example, in Smith v. Trafford Housing Trust, the claimant was punished (demoted) -- unfairly, the Employment Tribunal found -- for expressing a political viewpoint on Facebook. The Tribunal noted that the outcome would have been different if claimant had promulgated his views in the workplace. If an employee's action brings a business into disrepute, perhaps a dismissal could be found to be fair. But failure or refusal to vote does not have that effect: it is not a legitimate business interest of the company whether the employee votes.

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    I agree; firing someone for not voting a secret ballot is probably untested law, but I'm pretty sure the test would be exactly the same as if they fired you for voting for a candidate. For instance, expecting a Sinn Fein party member to participate in a British election might offend their beliefs, and whether they are Sinn Fein is none of your beeswax. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Sep 17 at 6:37
  • @Harper I believe in NI (where Sinn Fein members are likely to be), employers aren't allowed to discriminate on political opinion, while in the rest of the UK it isn't protected. – DavidW Sep 17 at 12:25
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    @DavidW During the Employment Appeal Tribunal case Henderson vs GMB (March 2015), it was ruled that Political Beliefs do fall under the Protected Characteristic of "Religion or Belief" (Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010) – Chronocidal Sep 18 at 12:16
8

If you're an employer who really wants their employees to vote, there are much easier ways. Arranging a minibus to the voting booth and the rest of the afternoon off for those that go to the voting booth would be the most obvious solution. Compared to the cost of lawyering up and trying to put together a legally-enforcable contract, plus the cost of enforcing it, a couple of hours off for your workers is likely to be a whole lot less expensive. There's no need to use a stick when carrots are cheaper.

And yes, as an employer you would be entirely within your rights to tell employees who didn't go to vote that they wouldn't get the afternoon off. Employers can give discretionary time off however they choose.

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    The minibus may not be viable: each person may have to go to a different polling station. – Peter Taylor Sep 17 at 10:12
  • @PeterTaylor Possibly, but it's a good start. If you're doing right by your employees, they're a lot more likely to do right by you. – Graham Sep 17 at 10:38
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    @Oddthinking, the polling station handbook mentions such a possibility for polling station staff and police officers (p16), but after discussing other exceptional cases states "Anyone else who is not on the register of electors (or the notice) for that polling station must not be allowed to vote" (p24). – Peter Taylor Sep 17 at 13:23
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    @Oddthinking No, AFAIK it is not the case generally. Having lived in both Australia and the UK I can say my impression is it is much harder to vote in the UK for many bureaucratic reasons. I can't find a definitive reference but see "Can I vote at a different polling station?" at bromley.gov.uk/info/200033/elections_and_voting/219/… – user133831 Sep 17 at 13:46
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    "Employers can give discretionary time off however they choose." -- is this really true? Isn't there a legal risk if you do so in a discriminatory fashion? – Ben Millwood Sep 17 at 16:08
5

Good answer already from user6726, but an additional consideration why the original contract could be ruled unlawful would be if an employee's belief in a right not to vote could be considered a "philosophical belief" under the Equality Act 2010. According to ACAS, criteria for this had been defined at an earlier (2009) tribunal.

The ACAS link compares religions with other philosophies, but there are also religions who advocate political disengagement. If an employee was politically disengaged for religious reasons, it would be easy to argue that the contract constituted discrimination that was prohibited by the Equality Act.

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    Spoiling your ballot is generally an option (I think even with some electronic voting systems), so an employee in this hypothetical situation could satisfy that contract requirement while still not actually voting for any candidate. Casting a spoiled ballot is not the same as not going to a poll at all, though, as far as voter turnout numbers and counts of spoiled ballots typically indicating voter dissatisfaction with the entire process / system instead of non-engagement. Anyway, probably still possible to use this argument against such a clause. – Peter Cordes Sep 17 at 1:40
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    @PeterCordes: Last one I looked at, spoiled ballot was impossible but an all-blanks was possible and I'd be very disappointed if it didn't have the same effect. – Joshua Sep 17 at 3:21
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    @Joshua the question is tagged england-and-wales where all voting is on paper and distinctly spoilable – Will Sep 17 at 8:14
5

Assuming the question is targeted at any part of the UK: in Northern Ireland it is specifically illegal for employers to discriminate against people based on their political opinion:

(1) In this Order “discrimination” means—

(a)discrimination on the ground of religious belief or political opinion; or

(b)discrimination by way of victimisation;

(I believe in the rest of the UK this isn't explicitly protected, however - as pointed out in the comments - "religion or belief" is now interpreted to include political opinion.)

You could probably argue that choosing not to vote is a political opinion, and therefore forcing people to vote would be illegal in NI.

  • During the Employment Appeal Tribunal case Henderson vs GMB (March 2015), it was ruled that Political Beliefs fall under the Protected Characteristic of "Religion or Belief" (Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010). So this is considered a Protected Characteristic in the entirety of the UK, and is just as illegal in England, Scotland and Wales as it is in Northern Ireland. – Chronocidal Sep 19 at 15:08
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    Fair enough - I did see your comment early. I've made a small edit to clarify. I really wasn't trying to claim much about the situation in the rest of the UK - I was more saying that this definitely applies in NI. – DavidW Sep 19 at 15:15
3

No. You are not allowed to discriminate (in most Euro and Anglo countries) based on religion, political position, or national origin.

Someone's religion might prevent them from voting, e.g. Due to a clerical order because of some issue at stake, say.

Off the top of my head, Sinn Fein refuses to participate in anything that legitimizes Crown control of Northern Ireland. There could be other cases.

Someone might have the right to work in your country, but not citizenship and hence would be prohibited from voting. Say, if your worker was from the EU but not your own country.

You can't say "You *must vote" without implying there is an "Or Else". Whatever the "Or Else" is, it's discrimination.

So firing them for not voting becomes a pretense for firing them because they're Pastafarian, non-Ulster, or foreign.

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    Sinn Fein party members most definitely take part in parliamentary elections. They elect Sinn Fein candidates as MPs (7 of them, in the most recent election). But having been legally elected on the manifesto that they will refuse to participate in the parliamentary system, they never actually take their seats. Of course, electing them has the side effect that no-one else is elected for that constituency who would take an active role in parliament. – alephzero Sep 17 at 9:02

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