jury duty

My employee has jury duty: an employer’s guide

As a business owner, how will you handle an employee’s summons for jury duty?

Serving on a jury is one of the highest duties of citizenship. The federal or a state government summons a citizen to appear as part of the selection process for choosing a jury. If selected, a juror will join a body of 12 people who are sworn to render a verdict, penalty or judgment in a legal case.

While the process of selecting jurors typically lasts a day, jury duty can last anywhere from one day to several months if your employee is selected as a juror for a trial. The possibility of an employee getting called for and assigned jury duty can create unpredictability and potentially extra costs for employers.

Here’s a jury duty guide for employers with what you need to know plus some jury duty employer tips.

Are you required to allow employees to report for jury duty?

In a word, yes.

The federal Jury Systems Improvement Act requires all employers provide unpaid leave for employees serving as jurors in federal courts. Most states also require employers to provide unpaid leave.

An employer can be sued for terminating or intimidating an employee for complying with jury duty.

Are you required to pay employees for their time fulfilling jury duty?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a federal law, doesn’t require employers to pay employees for jury duty service. Unless legislated by state law or stated in your company policy, an employer isn’t required to pay an employee for time spent serving on a jury.

The amount of paid time off required for your employees to comply with jury duty varies by state, as some require employers to pay employees. Some states also prohibit employers from requiring employees to use paid time off or vacation for time missed while on jury duty.

Consult with your HR professional or legal counsel to confirm what your state requires to avoid incurring penalties for non-compliance.

Will I need a written policy on jury duty?

Should an employee be called for jury duty, the first step is to consult your employee handbook’s jury duty policy.

It should (at minimum) address:

  • How much paid time off will you offer?
  • Will jury pay factor into how their paid time off is calculated?
  • Who they need to notify of an absence due to jury duty (manager, HR, etc.)
  • How soon must an employee tell you about the jury duty summons?
  • Who will the employee update on their juror status, and how?
  • What paperwork is required to verify jury duty, such as a copy of a summons or release from jury duty?
  • When does an employee return to work after release from jury duty?
  • How does your jury duty policy apply to exempt and nonexempt employees?

A thorough policy can help employees know what to do should a summon letter arrive and answer any questions about the process as it unfolds.

What can an employer do if a key employee is selected as a juror?

There are no laws barring employers from contacting an employee during jury duty. However, a juror will probably not be available or responsive, given the court’s prohibitions on cellphone use. Employers should be aware that wage and hours laws regarding paying employees for all time worked would still apply.

If an employee is serving on a lengthy trial, you can’t fire them because they’re on jury duty. You can ask the employee to turn in a letter to the court to plead your case that your employee is too critical for jury duty at this point, but there are no guarantees that would work.

A more practical approach would be to plan for backup coverage in the event a critical employee is summoned for jury duty.

How can you ensure compliance with jury duty laws?

Jury duty is a protected activity in the workplace. Avoid any action that could look as if you are violating this tenet.

Never take any punitive action against an employee for complying with jury duty. You can’t make it difficult for them to serve by setting requirements such as requiring the employee to secure backup coverage before they can serve on jury duty.

Two of the biggest reasons employers fail to comply with jury duty regulations:

  1. Not checking your state’s laws
  2. Requiring employees to use paid time off or vacation

Instead, focus on developing and maintaining a clear policy that outlines what to do in the event of a summons and when the employee is expected to return to work after jury duty.

Summing it all up

Jury duty is a civic responsibility that everyone will be called to partake in at some point.

When an employee is summoned for jury duty, an employer should:

  • Let them attend.
  • Check with state laws about compensation.
  • Create an employee handbook policy (in advance) to establish procedures and expectations
  • Not attempt to terminate the employee.

Stay informed on the ever-changing HR compliance landscape to safeguard your company. Download our free e-book, HR compliance: Are you putting your business at risk?

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