If you’re employed—either as a salaried or hourly employee—and a U.S. citizen at least 18 years of age or older, there will come a day when you’re summoned to serve on a jury. This is called “jury duty” or “jury service.”
This might bring some questions to your mind, like: Is your employer required to pay you for the time you’re off the job and serving as a juror? Can they fire you if your service lasts weeks or months?
It’s important to know the answers to these questions and to understand your particular employer’s jury duty policies. Not only will this help the process go more smoothly should you be summoned, it may also encourage you to look for another job if the policy isn’t particularly understanding or generous.
What is jury duty?
First thing’s first—understanding the basics of juror selection and the ensuing duties.
U.S. citizens 18 years and older are eligible to receive a summons from a federal or state court to appear on a particular day and time to potentially serve on a jury (there are a few exceptions, like active military servicemen and women). A jury will listen to a legal case presented to them and then give a verdict (a decision) on whether the individual who has been charged with a crime is guilty or innocent. This participation in our country’s judicial system is outlined in the 6thAmendment to the Constitution (a part of the Bill of Rights): “…accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury….”
Now, just because you’re summoned to appear at a courthouse to serve as a juror doesn’t mean you’ll be picked. The case could be dismissed, or you could be released based on your answers to the questionnaire you filled out before turning up at the courthouse. Either way, the clock is re-set once you show up for duty and you won’t be eligible for summons again for another year.
If you’re selected to serve on the jury, the case may take from a few hours to several weeks or months to conclude.
When you are first summoned (by postcard in the mail), you should notify your employer as soon as possible. This will allow you both to prepare for your potential absence. Depending on your state and employer’s policies, you may be required to provide proof of jury summons to your employer, such as showing your boss the postcard from the court.
Jury duty leave
By federal law, employers must allow their employees to serve on jury duty. There are some exceptions, but they are few. If you are dismissed from jury duty reasonably early in the day, an employer may require you to come to work for the remainder of the day or shift. Some employers may allow you to work from home in such instances or take the rest of the day off—possibly unpaid, depending on their policy.
If your jury service extends for months and/or you serve on a high-profile case, you may be sequestered, i.e. put up in a hotel with the other jurors and restricted from interacting with the public.
As you can see, jury duty can include a wide range of time commitments and exclusions from work. An employer’s jury duty policy should take all of these possibilities into consideration and clearly outline the expectations for employees in each scenario. If the policy is vague, nonexistent, or contradicts the law, this should be a red flag and you should contact HR for clarification. Or look for another job.
Depending on the state and/or level of court served on, jurors are typically paid $10–$60 a day by the judicial system, with the potential for meal and travel expense reimbursement. Beyond this, however, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require employers to pay nonexempt employees (those paid hourly and subject to overtime laws) for time not worked during jury duty. At the state level, of course, it varies. For exempt (i.e., salaried) employees, federal law prohibits employers from deducting an employee’s pay for jury duty leave unless the employee does not work for the whole week.
Pay requirements also vary depending on whether an employee works for the state, federal, or local government or for the private sector.
For the most part, states leave an employer's jury duty policy as far as compensation is concerned up to the employer. They may be required to pay an employee the same jury duty pay they receive from the court up to a certain number of days, or they may be required to compensate them with their regular pay during jury service. Some states prohibit employers from requiring employees to use paid time off (vacation, sick, personal, or other types of leave) for jury duty.
Adverse job actions
Even if your state doesn’t require an employer to pay employees for time served on a jury, the law does guarantee your job security and benefits. Employers cannot end your employment, threaten you for serving on a jury, pressure you into using your paid time off, terminate insurance or other benefits, or impose loss of job seniority, regardless of length of jury duty served.