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Q: What Are the Laws on Jury Duty?

Has one of your employees received a jury duty summons?

While you may have to find others to cover their responsibilities, there’s no need to panic. We’ll tackle various federal and state jury duty requirements so you know how to respond to an employee’s absence during jury duty leave.

First things first: there are different types of jury duty summons. Your employee may be called to

Federal jury duty in U.S. District Courts, orJury duty for state or local courts.

There are federal laws around your employer responsibilities toward employees summoned to federal jury duty, and then there are separate protections for jurors in state and local courts that are established by each respective state.  

Do I have to allow my employee to report for jury duty?

Generally, yes.

The Jury System Improvement Act of 1978 requires you to allow your employees to fulfill their civic duty in federal court. It also prohibits employers from punishing or threatening to punish employees for jury duty service in federal court.

So even if your employee’s jury duty summons comes at a terrible time—like in the middle of the holiday rush—you cannot fire them for them serving as a juror in federal court.

But what if you’re really, really desperate?

This law also prohibits you from intimidating or coercing your employee in hopes that they’ll decide to skip their federal jury duty or apply for a deferral.

Similarly, most states have laws requiring you to allow summoned employees to serve as a juror in state court. As of January 2019, the only state without this explicit requirement is Montana. State legislation may go even further in protecting prospective jurors. For example, in Maine, you can’t deny or threaten to deny employees their health insurance benefits because of jury duty. And in Massachusetts, you can’t deny employees existing benefits as a result of their jury duty.

Is there anything that I can do?

The Jury System Improvement Act and most related state laws do not prevent you from politely asking your employee to request a legitimate deferral—as long as you don’t retaliate if their deferral request is denied.

Most of the time, you can even submit a corroborating jury duty excuse letter for your employee if their absence may cause your business significant financial harm. But you cannot lie or ask your employee to lie on their deferral request.

If you’re a small business, your state may also have extra protection for you when it comes to jury duty service in state courts.

In Indiana, for example, a company with 10 or fewer full-time employees is not required to accommodate two employees on jury duty at the same time. If requested, the court can postpone the second summoned employee’s jury service until the first employee has completed their duties.

Okay, got it. When do my employees have to tell me that they have jury duty?

You may request employees to notify you in advance of their jury service.

For jury duty in federal court, an employer can require prompt notice of the jury duty summons. You can even request a copy of the summons as proof.

Some states are very specific about when your employee should notify you if they get a jury duty summons for state court. Alabama and Tennessee, for instance, require employees to inform you of their jury duty summons on their first work day after receiving it.

Other states are less strict.

Louisiana, for example, requires the employee to notify you “within a reasonable period of time” after they receive their summons while California and Arizona simply ask for “reasonable” advance notice.

What’s my employer responsibility around jury duty pay?

You know you have an employer duty to let your employees perform their jury service, but do you have to pay them for that time as well?

Laws about jury duty pay are entirely state-dependent.

According to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, you aren’t required to pay employees who aren’t working—even if they’re serving as jurors. (However, if an exempt employee works even a few minutes—for example, by checking email before or after their jury service one day—then they are entitled to pay for that week.)

Some states are more generous, though.

A few states, along with the District of Columbia, require you to pay your employees during jury duty. How much you have to pay differs by state.

For example, Alabama requires paying full-time employees their full salaries during jury duty leave. Colorado only requires payments of up to $50 for the first three days.

Other states that require paying employees at least some amount while they’re on jury duty include Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, and Tennessee.

Can I make my employee use vacation, sick, or personal leave?

Federally, there are no limitations on the type of leave you may request your employees take during jury duty. You could even ask them to take unpaid leave.

However, some states prevent you from asking or mandating jurors to use specific types of leave.  

The states that have these type of limitations include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, and Virginia.

How about asking my employees to finish their work after jury duty?

Perhaps you’d like your employees to work after jury duty concludes for the day.

In some states, that’s okay. You’ll want to be careful so your request doesn’t look like retaliation.

Other states have various restrictions on making employees work during jury duty.

For example, Michigan prohibits you from requiring an employee to work past their regular quitting time or to perform any combination of jury duty and work hours that exceeds the number of hours they usually work in a day.

Other places that have similar rules restricting work during jury duty service include Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, Tennessee, and Virginia.

What if I’m the one being called to jury duty?

Unfortunately, federal laws don’t make any exceptions for self-employed jurors, so all of the above applies. If your service as a federal juror will affect you financially, you can request to be excused from service on the basis of hardship.

At a state level, it depends. Some states do have guidelines for self-employed jurors in their courts.

Courts in Virginia, for example, will exempt individuals who are so essential to a business that the company would shut down without them. In Massachusetts, you can similarly request a judicial discretion hearing to have yourself or an essential employee be excused from jury service.

Keep in mind that the courts are not required to honor your request, though.

Anything else I need to know about jury duty laws?

If you have a PTO or other existing leave policy that covers jury duty and is more generous than what’s legally required, make sure to follow the more generous terms.

Remember, jury duty laws vary state by state—so if you’re unsure about whether your specific jury duty policies are legal, consult an employment lawyer who’s familiar with your area’s laws.

This article is not intended to act as legal advice

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