As a small business owner, you likely understand the cruciality of each and every member of your team. Some small businesses are only a two- or three-person shop and consequently depend on the presence of those employees to keep things moving along. So, what happens in the event one of those employees receives a jury duty summons? By law, that staff member must comply with their civic duty. Jury duty is not optional and yet the absence of an employee who might find themselves deliberating on a jury for days, or potentially weeks, can cripple a business, especially a smaller company.
What are your options? Is there anything you can do to prevent an employee from having to miss work for jury duty? Do you have to pay an employee while they are out completing their civic duty? These are questions that many business owners ponder when faced with the prospect of losing a vital employee to the jury box for any amount of time.
Are Employers Required to Accommodate Jury Duty?
The short answer here is yes. The Federal Jury Systems Improvement Act of 1978 clearly provides "statutory protection to the employment status of Federal jurors by prohibiting any employer to discharge, intimidate, threaten, or coerce any permanent employee by reason of the employee's Federal jury service or scheduled attendance for such service."
In other words, as an employer, you must permit employees to fulfill their jury duty requirements. And as stated above, there can be no intimidation or implied penalties if an employee has to miss work for jury duty. While the state of Missouri does provide for postponement of jury duty given special circumstances, this can be difficult to come by, so you should not count on an employee receiving any such postponement.
One bright spot here is that Missouri law does make it so that those small businesses with five or fewer full-time employees are generally not in danger of losing multiple employees simultaneously to jury duty. If one of your team members is serving on a jury and another is called up at the same time, a postponement for that second staff member is more likely to be granted. Familiarizing yourself with the laws on jury duty for employers will allow you to be prepared should a situation of this nature arise.
Do I Have to Pay an Employee for Jury Duty?
According toThe Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers are not required to compensate employees during their jury duty service. That said, the states will usually determine issues of compensation if an employee gets called for jury duty and thus must miss work. In Missouri, employers are not required to pay employees who are off on jury duty. Missouri state law does declare that an employer cannot require an employee to use their personal/sick leave or vacation time during periods missed because of any aspect of the jury duty process.
Many business owners may not be conversant with all applicable federal/state regulations in regard to employer requirements for jury duty. This is why, particularly if you lack a dedicated HR department, consulting a PEO such as Axcet HR Solutions will allow you to ensure that your company remains compliant with all relevant regulations.
Should You Incorporate an Employer Jury Duty Policy in your Employee Handbook?
While it’s not necessary that you have a dedicated jury duty employee handbook, incorporating language into your current handbook that outlines key policies and answers frequently asked questions when it comes to jury duty-related matters certainly can’t hurt. The potential for an employee to receive a jury duty summons is not out of the question. Being prepared for a multitude of situations, including jury duty, is always a good idea. Among some of the issues a jury duty section of the employee handbook might address are:
- An employee’s federal and state rights regarding jury duty
- Payment specifications; will the employee continue to be paid? Should they expect no compensation during this time? Can they, if they so choose, utilize personal leave? (Keep in mind, you must at least be in compliance with all relevant state/federal regulations. Beyond that, it is up to the individual company to decide the terms associated with jury duty.)
- Will the pay received from jury duty count against any paid time off under your policy for jury duty specifically? (The amount paid to jurors is minimal. Currently, it stands at $6.00 per day in Missouri, but the amount paid can be deducted from a paid time off plan in relation to jury duty leave.)
- The documentation an employee must provide as proof of jury duty.
- The protocol by which an employee must inform their supervisor of their impending jury duty.
- Is the employee required to return to work if their assigned jury duty finishes early every day? (If for example, an employee is released at 4 PM it may not be reasonable to require them to return to work, while a 10 AM release would make a return to work more feasible.)
- How does jury duty policy differ as far as full-time workers verse contract or part-time workers?
The more detailed any jury duty policy is, the more likely that everyone will be on the same page, thereby allowing the employee absence to go much smoother than it otherwise would.
The Bottom Line…
When an employee must serve on a jury, this can certainly present some problems for a small business. This is especially because when that employee is away on jury duty, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to contact them. Let’s say the employee becomes sequestered meaning that they will not be allowed to contact anyone outside the confines of the courtroom. As postponements and exemptions are hard to come by, it’s important to have a backup plan in place to address an employee absence. Such a plan might include:
- Assigning someone to cover all or portions of the absent employee’s tasks.
- Enlisting the aid of temporary employees and/or contract workers when necessary.
- Outlining a “back to work” transition protocol
From an HR perspective, backup plans of this nature can be critical in ensuring a smooth transition of duties both when an employee leaves for jury duty or when they return.
Axcet HR Solutions is Here to Help
If you are faced with a situation in which one of your team members must abide by a jury duty summons and you’re unsure what to do, we can help. Ideally, small business owners will be proactive, anticipating just this type of scenario and come up with a game plan well ahead of time. If you would like guidance in regard to preparing for jury duty issues or are looking for more general HR solutions, we would love to consult with you!