What Is Jury Duty?

Definition and Examples of Jury Duty

Women and men sit and listen from the jury box during a court proceeding.
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Jury duty is an obligation of U.S. citizens who receive a summons from a court to appear on a particular day and time to potentially serve on a jury. Jury duty is a civic responsibility.

What Is Jury Duty?

Jury duty is your duty as an American to serve as a juror during a court proceeding. When you serve on a jury, you're ensuring the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial and an impartial jury.

If you are called for jury duty, you must appear before the court or risk being held in contempt of court. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment for time not worked by an employee, including reporting for federal jury duty.

Jury duty applies to both civil and criminal cases. In a criminal case, the government, which brings the case against the defendant, must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury then must make a unanimous decision. In a civil case, the standard of proof is a preponderance of the evidence, and the jury must be unanimous unless instructed otherwise.

How Does Jury Duty Work?

When you are called for jury duty, you'll receive the official summons calling you to be available for jury duty at a particular time, date, and place. When you arrive at the assigned court, your first task is to fill out a questionnaire and participate in the jury selection process.

In some municipalities, the potential juror can call the court the night before they have been asked to report for jury duty to find out whether their services will be needed the next day.

State laws address jury duty and these laws differ between states. Check with your state's labor department to find the laws that govern jury duty in your particular state. The U.S. Department of Labor offers a listing of state labor offices where you can find this information.

If a person has been called for jury duty, a number of outcomes may ensue. They may request and be granted a delay or postponement to a more convenient time during the year. Typically, this requires a phone call and possibly filling out a jury questionnaire, and the potential juror should be prepared to provide an alternate time in the future when they will be able to serve.

The rules for requesting a postponement will vary from one jurisdiction to the next. Also, be aware that just because a person requests a postponement or delay does not mean the court will grant it.

It's also possible to request an exemption to be excused from jury duty altogether. Accepted reasons for a possible exemption vary by state but may include financial hardship, medical reasons, full-time student status, or caregiver duties. Exemptions aren't guaranteed, and usually, they must be accompanied by a written note or proof of the situation, such as a note from a doctor if someone is claiming a medical reason.

Selection for Jury Duty

During the jury selection process, lawyers for each side are allowed to question potential jurors; if a potential juror is biased or has a conflict of interest, they could be dismissed from the jury pool. Potential jurors also may be dismissed by the court if they're not needed, whether because a full jury has been seated or because of a settlement or plea negotiation. If dismissed reasonably early in the day, an employee may be expected to return to work for the remainder of the day.

Finally, the potential juror may be picked to serve on the jury. If that happens, the trial may be short and quick, or it may go on for months. They could possibly even be sequestered, or separated from their daily life until the trial concludes and a verdict is reached.

An employer’s jury duty policy needs to take all of these possibilities into consideration. The policy must fairly treat employees who are serving on a jury which is their civic duty. But, the policy must also protect the interests of the employer who needs work to continue.

Time Off and Pay for Jury Duty

Since jury duty availability is mandated by law, employers in almost every state are legally required to provide an employee with time off from work in order to perform their civic duty.

If the summons to jury duty occurs at a time of the year when the employer would experience a significant impact from the loss of the employee, the employer may write a letter to the court. The court will consider the employer and employee's request for postponed jury duty on a case-by-case basis.

Some states favor the employee and do not allow an employer to subtract any jury duty time from an employee's paycheck. Requirements also vary based on whether an employee works for the state, federal, or local government, or for a private company.

The following states prohibit employers from requiring employees to use their leave—vacation, sick, or personal time—for jury duty:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Indiana
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia

Additionally, federal law prohibits employers from taking adverse actions such as employment termination against an employee who is required to report for jury duty. Adverse actions include harassment, threatening, or attempting to coerce the employee regarding jury duty. Also, an employee must be allowed to report back to work following their jury duty.

Paid Jury Duty Leave

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), of employees who work in state government, 94% receive paid jury duty leave. Of employees who work in local government employment, 85% receive paid jury duty leave. Federal employees receive their regular salary while they perform jury duty.

In the private sector, 57% of employees receive paid jury duty leave. 

The percentage of workers who receive paid jury duty leave varies widely and is based on the job title, job level or classification, type of work, industry, and location.

The majority of states leave an employer's jury duty policy up to the employer. However, eight states require employers to pay their employees while serving jury duty:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Nebraska
  • New York
  • Tennessee

Some states specify what the employer must pay an employee, which is usually the same as the jury duty pay for a certain amount of days at the beginning of the process. After that, for additional days of jury duty, the state court system pays the employee the going rate for jury duty. Other states specify that the employee must be paid their regular pay while reporting for jury duty.

As an example, in New York, the jury fee is $40 a day. New York law states that if a company has more than 10 employees, they must pay the juror their regular daily wage or the $40 juror fee, whichever is lower, for the first three days of jury service. If the juror is paid less than the juror fee, the state will make up the difference.

The Bottom Line

  • Jury duty is when a U.S citizen is summoned to serve on a jury in a court proceeding.
  • An employer is not required by federal law to pay you for time not worked, including jury duty, but some state laws do require that employees be paid when serving jury duty.
  • You cannot be fired for taking time off work for jury duty.

Article Sources

  1. Legal Information Institute. "Sixth Amendment." Accessed June 29, 2020.

  2. Legal Information Institute. "28 U.S. Code § 1875. Protection of Jurors’ Employment." Accessed June 29, 2020.

  3. U.S. Marshalls Service. "Service of Process." Accessed June 29, 2020.

  4. Pierce County. "Reasons for Being Excused from Jury Service." Accessed June 29, 2020.

  5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Employee Benefits in the United States, March 2019," Page 2. Accessed June 29, 2020.

  6. United States Courts. "Juror Pay." Accessed June 29, 2020.

  7. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "NCS: Employee Benefits in the U.S., March 2018," Page 1. Accessed June 29, 2020.

  8. U.S. Department of Labor. "Jury Duty." Accessed June 29, 2020.

  9. New York State Unified Court System. "Jury Information for Employers," Page 3. Accessed June 29, 2020.