If you want your employees to vote, give them paid time off. That’s the message the shareholder advocacy group at Trillium Asset Management began communicating to 20 companies it invests in. 

The $3 billion Boston-based asset manager’s advocacy work is paying off. With the November election less than 90 days away, a number of the large U.S. employers Trillium engaged with, including Apple, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan and Target, have enhanced or changed their policies to ensure their workers have paid time off to get to the polls.

“Voter engagement is critical—and excitement is building. But, many workers won’t vote if it means jeopardizing their jobs,” Brianna Murphy, vice president of shareholder advocacy at Trillium, said in an interview. Trillium specializes in ESG investing and while this is the first time it has taken on companies’ voting policies, it’s a subject that has become more of a focus leading up to the November 3 presidential election, she said.

Trillium’s year-long advocacy project has highlighted which companies are leading the charge for voter access and those that are lagging behind.

Pew research indicates that 35% of non-voters blame schedule conflicts with work or school for not going to the polls. Hourly employees may be impacted the most because of a lack of flexibility in work schedules. While some states have expanded early voting and incorporated no-excuse absentee ballot programs, this is not the case in every state, and taking advantage of these opportunities comes with their own bureaucratic challenges, Trillium said in analysis.

“A policy that is meaningful provides employees with at least two hours of paid leave. We now see some companies like Apple adopting a great four-hour leave policy. Companies that only rely on state policy are less effective because state laws are all over the place. Some states provide 60 minutes to vote while others are silent. State policies are rarely enforced. Some are just guidelines,” Murphy said.

During Trillium’s engagement with PNC, the nation’s ninth-argest bank, the bank adopted a paid time off to vote for all of its employees. The policy will impact PNC’s 60,000 employees in 21 states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. By shifting from a compliance approach to best practice, PNC employees will have the flexibility to vote without jeopardizing their jobs or sacrificing hourly wages.

Similarly, Bank of America and Apple changed their voting policies during the course of Trillium’s outreach. Bank of America now provides its 200,000 employees with up to three hours of paid time off to vote. Apple now gives all of its about 130,000 employees four hours to vote or to volunteer at a polling place.

“We initially reached out to the 20 companies with a letter to ask a series of questions about their voting policy, who it applies to and whether employees have the right policies in place to be able to vote without making a decision to take unpaid leave,” Murphy said.

“We also emphasized our belief that a strong voting policy can lead to better employee engagement and we think a strong democracy, which is aligned with building a strong economy,” she added.

Of the 20 companies Trillium engaged, seven earned a score of A, meaning they gave employees at least two-hours of paid leave to vote. They are Apple, Bank of America, BNY Mellon, First Republic Bank, JP Morgan, Mellon and Target.

Companies that earned a B score from Trillium, meaning they provide some time off and encourage employees to go to the polls, are Marriott, Starbucks, TJ Maxx, Tractor Supply Company and UPS.

Companies that earned a C score only comply with state or local laws and are Costco, CVS, Nike, The Home Depot and Verizon.

In the D score category, meaning the company did not respond to Trillium’s inquiries, are BJs, Chipotles and VF.

The U.S. has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the developed world. Roughly 56% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election. Hourly workers in particular can be impacted by an employer’s lack of formal voting policy and paid leave for voting.

“When companies actively and enthusiastically support civic engagement it sends a positive message to all company stakeholders and most notably, employees. Doing so can benefit our democracy, can increase employee satisfaction, and we believe, improve the bottom line,” Trillium concluded in its report.

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