Companies are giving employees paid time off to vote in upcoming midterm elections 

Key Points
  • Celebrities, athletes and politicians are not the only ones encouraging Americans to vote on Nov. 6. Employers, too, are making a big push to drive voter turnout.
  • As of October, more than 300 companies partnered with the Time to Vote campaign, a nonpartisan effort to increase voter turnout.
  • Levi Strauss is offering paid time off, Patagonia will be shutting its stores on Election Day, and Uber and Lyft are offering free rides to the polls.
After waiting in line for 1.5 hours, Blake Ashe holds her daughter, Julia, 3, as she casts her ballot on election day November 8, 2016 at Grady High School in Atlanta, Georgia.
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Celebrities, athletes and politicians are not the only ones encouraging Americans to vote on Nov. 6. Employers, too, are making a big push to drive voter turnout.

Mediterranean restaurant Cava is one of them, joining more than 300 companies that are encouraging workers to get involved. The chain, which recently acquired Zoes Kitchen, will be offering two-hour paid leave to team members who want to participate in the midterm election, the company said in a letter to employees Monday.

"Between work, school, and family responsibilities, it can be challenging to find time to vote," the letter, penned by CEO Brett Schulman and founders Ik Grigoropoulas, Dimitri Moshovitis and Theodore Xenohristos, said. "This is one of the reasons the United States has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the world ... we believe it is not only our right but also our duty to vote in all elections, from local to midterms to presidential."

Cava's paid leave comes at a time when companies across the U.S. are encouraging employees to vote. Participating companies say the effort, called Time to Vote, is nonpartisan. Walmart, Tyson Foods and PayPal are among those supporting the initiative in an effort to increase voter turnout, which was recently as low as 36 percent.

"This campaign is nonpartisan, and it's not political," Corley Kenna, director of global communications and public relations at Patagonia, told CNBC. "This is about supporting democracy, not supporting candidates or issues."

However civic-minded, the effort comes ahead of a hotly contested midterm election in which Democrats have a solid chance of retaking control of the House and possibly the Senate.

An equity trader quits his career and beefs up a Mediterranean food brand.
Source: Cava

In past elections, employers have hosted get-out-the-vote drives and even made Election Day a corporate holiday to encourage workers to vote. This year, voter enthusiasm for the midterms is on the rise. More American voters are likely to turn out in November than they were four years ago, when voter turnout hit its lowest point in the past 50 years, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.

There are no federal laws requiring employers to give workers time off to vote. But companies are set on harnessing the uptick in enthusiasm this year, whether it be closing stores or offices, giving paid time off or providing transportation to the polls.

Levi Strauss is offering paid time off, and Uber and Lyft are offering free rides to the polls. Other companies in the coalition include Sweetgreen and La Colombe.

"Voting is a hard-won right, a weighty responsibility and an incredible privilege that we too often take for granted here in the U.S.," Chip Bergh, president and CEO of Levi, wrote in an op-ed in September. "In the 2016 presidential election, 40 percent of the people eligible to vote stayed home instead. That's 102 million people who 'voted' for apathy, more votes than any other candidate got."

Midterm elections, in particular, are notorious for low voter turnout. Less than half of eligible voters went to the polls for the 2014 midterm elections.

Americans cite one of two reasons for not casting a ballot: They are either too busy or not interested. Some say that scheduling conflicts, such as work or school, kept them from the polls, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study.

Cava's Xenohristos told CNBC that as a first-generation American, he feels a responsibility to exercise his right to vote, but as a member of the restaurant industry, he's aware of how difficult it can be to get the time to do so.

He noted that there are more than 16 million restaurant workers, some working two to three jobs and providing for a family. So, getting time off work to go to the polling stations can be hard.

"We just want to urge them to be active members of their communities," Xenohristos said. "We hope that they take advantage of it."

New hires at Cava make $13 an hour, the company said. The restaurant provided its 1,800 workers with information about where and when to register to vote, when early voting starts, polling hours and locations and how to use absentee ballots.

The paid leave is now part of Cava's other benefits for part-time and full-time team members, including 401(k) retirement plans, health care and paid sick and parental leave.

For Patagonia, shuttering its stores, headquarters and distribution centers on Election Day is "a signal to the community that voting is more important than shopping," Patagonia's Kenna said.

The company first did this in 2016 at the behest of its CEO, Rose Marcario.

Kenna said offering workers the chance to vote, either by paid leave or a day off, is an important part of employee benefits. There has been a massive uptick in companies offering better paternity leave, college tuition reimbursement and other benefits to entice employees to come work for the company and to keep them employed longer.

"It's the right thing to do," Kenna said, noting that many of Patagonia's employees wouldn't have been able to vote if they didn't have the day off.

Here is the full list of companies encouraging employees to participate on Election Day through the Time to Vote coalition.