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February 26, 2015
Jury duty is often called our civic duty. It is the foundation of our legal system. However, it is a burden on working people because of the interruption it can cause at work. Employees often try to get out of jury duty service to avoid problems at home, and especially problems with their employers. Employers don’t like jury duty either.
Is it legal for employers to fire employees who are absent from work for jury service? Not in Georgia. Under Georgia law, it is illegal to fire an employee because of his or her absence from work due to jury service. Georgia’s statute, O.C.G.A. § 34-1-3 states, “it shall be unlawful for any employer … to discharge, discipline, or otherwise penalize an employee because the employee is absent from his or her employment for the purpose of attending a judicial proceeding in response to a subpoena, summons for jury duty, or other court order or process ….” The law even prohibits an employer from threatening to take such action: “It shall be unlawful for any employer or the agent of such employer to threaten to take or communicate an intention of taking any action declared to be unlawful by this subsection.”Employees Cannot be Fired for Responding to a Subpoena or Serving on Jury Duty. O.C.G.A. § 34-1-3
Thus, the protections for employees are quite strong. The reason is common sense. If employers were allowed to coerce employees into not complying with subpoenas or jury summonses, then the whole judicial system would be at risk. Our legal system can only function with the participation of citizens as both witnesses and as jurors to decide legal disputes.
So, what can you do if you’ve been threatened or terminated for participating in jury duty? The law allows courts (and juries) to award damages: “Any employer or agent of such employer who violates … this Code section shall be liable to the injured employee for all actual damages thereby suffered by the employee and for reasonable attorney’s fees incurred by the employee in asserting a successful claim under this Code section.”
However, while these protections are strong and well-founded, there is one big exception. If an employee is charged with a crime and must attend court to answer for the charges, they are not protected under the statute. In other words, if you are absent from work because you have to go to court on your own criminal charge, you can be lawfully terminated.
If you believe that you have been discriminated against, disciplined or terminated because of you responded to a subpoena for a deposition, or a summons to appear for jury duty, you are protected.