Knowing the basics can help you minimize disruption

 

As a seasoned HR manager, Ashley has been down this road before. One of her key employees has been selected for jury duty. But unlike others who served before him, this employee may miss crucial weeks—not days—of work. Management isn't pleased, so it's up to Ashley to reduce tensions and make sure the company does all it can to comply with the law.

Ashley's problem is one familiar to most managers, HR professionals, and business owners. According to the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch, more than 550,000 Connecticut residents are selected for jury duty each year and about 110,000 will serve. But it's not always easy to convince employers of their obligation to turn their most valuable asset over to the judicial system.

"Educating managers and company owners that this is a civic duty is important," says Mark Soycher, CBIA counsel. "Most often, service lasts just one day. But it's still a stressful issue and raises questions about wages, work schedules, and employer/employee responsibilities."

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

"Employers should prepare for the most challenging scenario and scale back as appropriate," says Rich Pildis, director of human resources for Hooker & Holcomb, an actuarial and employee benefits firm in West Hartford. Pildis is also an HR consultant for some of Connecticut's leading employers.

"One of the biggest concerns is the unknown," he says. "How long will my employee be away? All employers I work with make accommodations and are very much on board with the need for employees to fulfill their civic responsibilities. But that unknown can really cause an employer some disruption."

Accommodations, says Pildis, should be discussed well in advance of an employee's jury-duty date.

"First, the employee needs to notify his or her employer immediately upon receiving jury-duty notification," Pildis advises. "He or she should bring the document to work and sit down with the employer to put an action plan together. That makes everyone feel more in control."

Knowledge Is Power

When it comes to jury duty, knowing the basics can help make a difficult situation manageable. Soycher , CBIA assistant counsel, often remind CBIA members to consider the following points when dealing with jury-duty absences.

Connecticut's "one-day/one-trial" jury service requirement (jurors must serve one day or one trial, whichever is longer) has made getting excused from jury duty a rare occurrence. It is, however, relatively easy to reschedule a date for service if it occurs at an inconvenient time. The juror notification allows a juror to request an alternate date, but such a request must be submitted by the employee/juror, not the employer.

Employers are required to pay full-time employees their regular wages for the first five days of jury duty in state court unless they are considered temporary or casual employees.

All jurors serving more than five days are reimbursed $50 per day by the state.

Employers are not required to pay an employee wages for jury duty performed on any day that the employee would not have accrued regular wages, such as regularly scheduled days off or days on which an employee takes an unpaid leave of absence.

Employers may submit a written request to the court to waive the requirement to pay an employee for jury service if payment would result in extreme financial hardship to the employer.

Both state and federal law prohibit employers from discharging, threatening, or coercing employees who are summoned for jury duty or who are subpoenaed as witnesses in court proceedings. Employers may be fined up to $500 or imprisoned up to 30 days or both under state law and fined up to $1,000 per violation under federal law.

Post-Trial Support

An employer's responsibility doesn't necessarily end when an employee's service as a juror begins. Consider the nature of the case and the toll it might take on a juror. High-profile lawsuits, for example, can often place people in an unfamiliar social context.

"Sometimes stress related to jury duty might be an issue employers need to consider," Atkinson says. "In that case, we would recommend that an employer provide a good employee assistance program (EAP) to any worker who seems negatively affected by his or her service on a jury."

For more information about jury duty, contact CBIA's HR experts at 860.244.1900 or click here.