They say that death and taxes are inevitable, but there's another thing most people can't avoid: jury duty. And as a business owner, you might also be worried about how an employee's absence due to jury duty will affect your operations and bottom line. When your employees can't work, your operations can be interrupted, and that's not all. If you're required to give jury duty pay to employees during their service, your bottom line takes an even bigger hit.
To handle the business challenges that jury duty presents to small businesses, we will cover how jury duty works, explain how you determine whether jury duty pay applies to your company, and offer tips on how you can craft a plan to handle all of the related financial and operational obstacles jury service presents.
How does jury duty work?
All Americans are obligated to serve jury duty. (Jury duty is often seen as a person's civic duty.) Without juries composed of impartial and randomly chosen people, defendants in court cases cannot receive the speedy and fair trials outlined in the Sixth Amendment. Given this obligation, an employee's jury duty summons supersedes their work for you.
You should also keep the following in mind regarding how jury duty pertains to your employees.
Avoiding jury duty can have legal consequences.
If one of your employees receives a jury duty summons, they must appear at the designated courthouse on the specified date at the specified time. Should your employee forgo their jury duty summons, they could be held in contempt of court and charged. As much of a hiccup as the employee's absence may prove for your company, employee attendance should never come at the cost of legal troubles.
Employees can sometimes postpone jury duty.
Sometimes, employees can legally get out of jury duty. All jurors have the right to request at least one postponement, though requests may be denied. Additionally, subsequent requests after an initial request are usually forbidden.
In rare circumstances, employees may be entirely exempt from jury duty.
Occasionally, certain summoned citizens can request to be entirely exempt from serving on juries. These jurors must have medical, financial, caregiving or student obligations that preclude them from serving. Some municipalities operate phone lines that summoned citizens can call the night before jury duty to learn whether they must still report for service the next day. If they aren't required to report in person, their jury duty summons is considered officially fulfilled.
Do you have to pay your employees for jury duty?
Whether you must pay your employees for jury duty depends on where your company is located. To help you determine your obligations, we've outlined federal and state laws:
Federal jury duty laws
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which is a federal U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) law, employers are not legally required to pay employees for nonwork hours. Since employees are theoretically not working while they're on jury duty, federal law does not mandate that you pay your employees for jury duty.
However, jury duty waiting rooms equipped with Wi-Fi are becoming increasingly common, though Wi-Fi is only available in the early stages of jury duty. If your employees work for you remotely while they wait during the early stage of jury duty (i.e., preselection), you must pay them for their work. This consideration may be somewhat of a gray area, so you may want to speak with an attorney regarding remote work policies.
State jury duty laws
State laws governing jury duty pay supersede the FLSA. Most states don't require employers to pay employees for jury duty, but nine states mandate jury duty pay. These states are:
- Arizona: Companies based in Arizona must pay their full-time employees their usual wages for all hours that the employee would normally work during their jury duty.
- Colorado: Colorado businesses must pay employees their regular wages up to $50 per day for their first three days on jury duty. You can increase this $50 cap if you so desire.
- Connecticut: Connecticut companies must pay full-time employees their full wages for their first five days of jury duty.
- Georgia: Full-time employees in Georgia are entitled to the full payment of wages during jury duty, minus any money the courts pay jurors for their service.
- Louisiana: Louisiana companies must pay "regular" employees their full wages for their first day of jury duty.
- Massachusetts: In Massachusetts, full-time, part-time, temporary, and "casual" employees must receive full wages for their first three days of jury duty.
- Nebraska: All Nebraska employees must receive full wages for jury duty, minus any money that the courts pay citizens for their service.
- New York: In New York, employers with over 10 employees must pay $40 in wages per day during an employee's first three days on jury duty.
- Tennessee: In Tennessee, jury duty pay is required for any non-temporary employees whom you have employed for over six months. Qualified employees must receive their full wages, less any money that the courts pay for service. However, employers with four or fewer employees are exempt from Tennessee's jury duty pay laws.
Additionally, Washington D.C. requires employers to pay employees their regular wages for their first five days of jury duty. However, employers can subtract any money that the courts pay employees for their service from their total required wage payment.
Although 41 states have no jury duty pay laws, many employers nevertheless offer jury duty pay as a benefit. In fact, 68% of U.S. employees get jury duty pay when they serve. And perhaps most importantly, even if you're not required to pay employees for jury duty, you still must grant employees as much time off as they need to fulfill their jury duty obligations. You cannot threaten, fire or penalize employees for their service.
Can you deny a request for an employee to report for jury duty?
No, you cannot deny a request for an employee to serve on a jury. Since a jury duty summons is legally binding, you and your company have no authority to nullify or alter the summons.
However, as mentioned earlier, any person summoned for jury duty can request a postponement or exemption, though neither outcome is guaranteed. Should these requests be declined, you must give the employee time off to fulfill their service.
Tips for setting up a system for jury duty absence
Employee jury duty can impact a business. However, you can make this burden easier to bear by implementing a jury duty absence system. Follow the below steps to implement your system:
- Know your state jury duty laws. In addition to the laws listed above, states may have additional laws about how much work you can or can't make your employees perform outside jury duty hours. Ask a lawyer for more information.
- Reassure your employees that you won't penalize them for their service. Employees worried about their job may neglect to tell you about their summons early enough for you to adequately plan for their absence. By guaranteeing your employees that jury duty won't come at the cost of their job, you can circumvent this problem.
- Set deadlines. In your employee handbook, specify how far in advance employees must inform you that they have received a summons. You should also outline your plans for jury duty pay and covering absent employees' responsibilities.
- Create your plan as soon as possible. Despite the stresses that jury duty can cause for a small business, your employees won't be summoned often. It's easy to not prioritize developing your jury duty plan, but that is ill-advised. Instead, take time sooner rather than later to create your plan so you're not caught off-guard when a key employee tells you they've been summoned for jury duty during a critical week for your company.
- Remember that you can be summoned, too. In devising employee jury duty plans, you might forget that you can be called for jury duty as well. While you're away, you need someone running the business on your behalf. Implement these plans now to prevent hiccups in the future. With a strong strategy in place ahead of time, jury duty can be minimally disruptive for your company.