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December 15, 2015
Jury trials are the cornerstone of the American judicial system. What goes hand-in-hand with jury trials? Jury duty, which is called duty, because you, legally, have to do it. This means that your employer may not fire you for missing work for jury duty. In fact, some states have made it a crime for employers to retaliate or intimidate an employee serving on a jury.Employee Requirements
Courts send out jury summons in advance, so the only requirement some states make for employees is that they give their employers advanced notice of when they will be missing work for jury service.Do I Get Paid While on a Jury?
Your employer is not required to pay you for the time you are serving on a jury and not at work (although some do)—at a minimum they just cannot fire you. Even if you are an “at-will” employee (meaning that your employer may terminate you for any non-discriminatory reason or for no reason)—they are prohibited for terminating you because of jury service. The courts may give you a small fee for each day you serve on a jury, but in truth that typically barely covers the cost of parking near the courthouse.Legal Consequences for an Employee
If you refuse or ignore the juror summons, you may be found in contempt of court, fined, or even imprisoned. Courts take jury duty very seriously. Washington County Judge Randall Burnworth in Marietta, Ohio is demanding that 55 people appear before him on December 10, 2015. They will be required to satisfactorily explain why they failed to appear for jury duty service in the high-profile murder trial involving a former Deputy Sheriff, Mitchell Ruble. If they fail to appear, or do not provide a satisfactory explanation for their absence, they can face contempt charges, court fees, potential arrest, and incarceration. Judges in Georgia have taken similar steps.Legal Consequences to an Employer for Wrongful Termination
An employee fired while serving on a jury may have a basis to file a lawsuit claiming that they were wrongfully terminated, meaning they were terminated in violation of the law.
Each state has different laws, administrative regulations or local ordinances that protect employees engaged in jury duty service. For example, Georgia employers may not discharge, penalize, or threaten an employee for being selected for a jury or making a required court appearance. Employees in Georgia must provide reasonable notice of the scheduled jury duty service or court appearance. Employers must pay full wages to the employee while they are serving on a jury, minus any fees the employee receives as a juror. If the employer violates the law, they are liable for actual damages incurred by the employee and reasonable attorney’s fees.
In Florida, an employee sued her employer after she received a voicemail terminating her while she was a member of a jury. She burst into tears, which was noticed by the court staff and they notified the Judge in the case. The Judge ordered the juror’s direct supervisor into court to face misdemeanor contempt charges for her role in the termination of the juror during jury service.
However, jury duty is not a complete protection from termination. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals covering Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas ruled that it was not illegal to fire an employee for unprofessional conduct while that employee was also serving on a jury, because the termination was for legitimate reasons unrelated to the jury service; specifically, the Louisiana employee was found to have been terminated for unprofessional conduct.
To find out what applies in your region, you can reach out to Parks, Chesin & Walbert, look at your State’s Department of Labor website, call your local court administrator, or the clerk of the court that issued the summons for more information.