Harvard Vice President for Human Resources Marilyn Hausammann wrote to administrators Friday to ensure managers provide “scheduling flexibility” to enable staff members to vote.
In her email, Hausammann cited recent messages from University President Lawrence S. Bacow termed voting the “first responsibility of citizenship.”
“I write to echo those sentiments and to ask you to ensure that your managers provide scheduling flexibility to your staff members (particularly those who are paid hourly and who are working on-site) as they exercise their right to vote,” she wrote.
The email — sent to vice presidents, executive deans, and administrative deans — also noted that it is a policy at the University that “an employee must be given time off with pay if such time off is necessary to vote.”
Hausammann’s email comes after 850 individuals in the past week signed onto a petition to Bacow to designate Election Day a holiday at Harvard.
The petition’s organizer, Jack M. Swanson ’22, called the email from Hausman “great” as a way of reminding staff members of the existing policy but said it is not enough because it places pressures on workers to request time off from their managers.
“We want to make it as friendly as possible for people to vote,” he said. “You don't want people to consider not voting because they're going to have to speak to the manager about getting that time off.”
Swanson noted that early voters have already experienced extended wait times at polling places in cities like Atlanta.
“I don't think it's a stretch to assume that election day is going to have horrific lines,” he said. “So if we were really trying to acknowledge what's actually going to happen on November 3, we need to make sure we understand that people are going to need the entire day off.”
“This is not a do it on your lunch break kind of thing,” Swanson added.
In her email to administrators, Hausammann referenced the special circumstances created by COVID-19.
“The pandemic and related public health safeguards may mean that the time needed to vote is longer than it would have been in past years, and it may be difficult to complete voting before or after work, especially if those hours are consumed with long commutes and child care drop-off and pick-ups,” she wrote.
“Your understanding and encouragement of your team to be flexible in allowing time to vote is appreciated,” Hausammann added.
Swanson still hopes the University will take the next step and designate the day a holiday.
“I say that because if Harvard were to announce that election day were a holiday, I have no doubt that many other universities and institutions would follow suit,” he said. “At the very least, it would spawn some kind of a push for other organizations to do the same.”
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the criticisms.
The internal message is “missing out on a big opportunity to show how much voting matters,” Swanson said.
He said he also still worries about the University’s 30,000 students who may need time off from class to vote or volunteer at the polls, given that only some professors may be understanding of such commitments.
“The best thing we can do is to just say, this is a holiday for every single person, staff and students alike,” Swanson said. “It doesn't matter who your professor is. It doesn't matter who your manager is. You're going to get the day off, and you're going to have the opportunity to vote in the election and engage in whatever way you see fit.”
—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.
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