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Need time off to volunteer at the polls? More companies are offering the option

Boston’s Wayfair is the latest to sign on

“If everyone who is eligible takes the time to vote, we will see more broad outcomes that are reflective of our diverse experiences, beliefs and ambitions,” said Niraj Shah, CEO of Wayfair.

The number of companies offering employees paid time off to vote is getting too big to count.

And now the list of companies offering employees time off to help at the polls is growing, as well.

The latest to sign on is the Boston furnishings retailer Wayfair. Chief executive Niraj Shah told employees in a memo last week that they can get the day off to work the polls if they want.

“While there are many things we cannot control in today’s uncertain world, each of us can and should exercise our right to vote,” Shah wrote. “If everyone who is eligible takes the time to vote, we will see more broad outcomes that are reflective of our diverse experiences, beliefs and ambitions.”

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Corporate America is having a get-out-the-vote moment. To some extent, the seeds for this movement were planted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the calls for racial justice that followed George Floyd’s death in May. However, those events galvanized executives to help workers become more civically involved, in part reflecting an increasing interest among employees.

For example, Boston real estate executive Peter Palandjian this summer spearheaded a project dubbed A Day for Democracy, a pledge-card initiative in which employers promise to provide some time off to vote, or to help employees register and obtain mail-in ballots. So far, nearly 225 companies have signed up. “Almost everyone who is asked says yes,” Palandjian said.

One statistic that’s quoted frequently: Nearly 56 percent of voters showed up during the 2016 presidential election, a participation rate low enough for the Pew Research Center to rank the United States 26th out of 32 highly developed democratic countries.

The poll-worker effort goes one step further. Wayfair joins dozens of other companies, including Boston Beer Co., that are working with a new nonpartisan group called the Civic Alliance, whose goals include attracting poll workers from corporations big and small. The alliance is recruiting from the business community on behalf of another like-minded organization, Power the Polls, which helps connect people to polling places in need of workers. So far, at least 80 companies have agreed to assist.

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Reports of shortages surfaced this summer, in large part because most poll workers, until now, have been in their 60s or older, and so are at higher risk for COVID-19; many of them are opting to stay home this year.

It’s unclear whether there will be a shortage of poll workers in Massachusetts in November. Debra O’Malley, spokeswoman for Secretary of State William Galvin, said there were enough poll workers for last week’s primary. The office has been recruiting on behalf of cities and towns for several months via its website, but many municipalities have been flooded with offers of help and have asked that their postings be taken down. Larger cities, O’Malley said, may still be looking for help, and clerks are advised to have a pool of backups. (Whether they are paid or work for free varies by municipality.)

Wayfair’s policy allows its roughly 14,000 US employees to take a full paid day off for Election Day to help with the cause. Wayfair was among the first Boston companies to join Palandjian’s A Day for Democracy project; for that effort, Wayfair committed earlier this summer to giving four hours of paid time off to each US worker to vote in the primary and the general election.

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“We want our employees to be involved in our community,” said Kate Gulliver, global head of talent for Wayfair. “This seems like a great opportunity for that.”

Boston Beer Co. executives had a similar motivation for joining the Civic Alliance. Carolyn O’Boyle, the brewer’s chief people officer, said it’s giving its 2,250 employees the flexibility to go to the polls to vote or to help at the polls, but is not implementing a paid time-off policy. “We’re relying on teams and managers to create the flexibility and time off that works for individuals,” O’Boyle said.

The Civic Alliance was started in January by the Creative Artists Agency, a well-known talent agency in Los Angeles, and Democracy Works, a nonprofit aimed at increasing voter participation. One goal is to embed the importance of voting and civic engagement in the DNA of as many companies as possible, spokesman Stephen Massey said.

The recent corporate interest in voter participation, Massey said, has been driven in part by the social-justice rallies that have swept the country in recent months.

“At this moment, companies realize that voting is not the only solution, but it’s an important part of the solution to giving everyone a voice,” Massey said. “Strong democracy is good for business, and a really engaged business community can be good for democracy.”


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him @jonchesto.