Rick Olson: Does North Dakota Need a Law to Protect the Jobs of People Serving in the Legislature?


Although we are more than a year away from the next general election in November of 2018; many people at the local and state levels of the political parties in North Dakota use this time to try and find candidates for office. During the last election cycle in 2016, for example, many legislative races across North Dakota were uncontested, because of the fact that the parties were unable to find enough people to run.

For a person like me who is an hourly associate in a retail store, it would be difficult if not impossible for me to be able to put my full-time job on hold in order to serve in the Legislature. Most likely, if I were to one day be nominated and elected to serve; my employer in all likelihood would not be able to grant me the time off that would be needed for me to serve as a legislator. It quite possibly would come down to whether or not I would still have a job to come back to once the legislative session wraps up.

You see, North Dakota has no law which requires an employer to protect the job of an individual so he or she may serve in the Legislature, and perform official duties as a member of the Legislature. When it comes down to serving in the Legislature and worrying that their job might not be there when they return when the session is over, people will pick their jobs over serving in the Legislature.

Our neighbors in South Dakota do not have that worry. South Dakota has a state law which requires employers to give a temporary leave of absence to an employee in order that he or she may perform their official duties as a member of the Legislature.

The law is found in Section 2-4-1.1 of the South Dakota Codified Laws:

“2-4-1.1 Leave of absence from employment for legislative service–Restrictions on employee’s right to serve in Legislature void.
An employer shall grant a temporary leave of absence without loss of job status or seniority resulting therefrom, to any employee who is a member of the Legislature in order that such employee may perform any official duty as a member of the Legislature. Such temporary leave of absence may be with or without pay within the discretion of the employer. Any agreement between an employer and an employee which, as a condition precedent to employment, promotion or benefit enhancement, restricts the employee’s right to serve in the Legislature is void as a matter of public policy.”

North Dakota ought to have the same kind of law, which protects employees jobs while they are serving in the Legislature. Perhaps if there were an influx of hourly workers like me serving in the Legislature, it would bring some brand new ideas and perspectives into lawmaking in North Dakota.