What Is Jury Duty? Learn About Leave, Pay, and More

Jury in court
••• moodboard/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

A jury is a panel of people who are assigned to render a verdict in a case submitted to them. To render a verdict means to decide whether an individual who has been charged with a crime is guilty or innocent. Jury duty occurs when a U.S. citizen receives a summons from a Federal or state court to appear on a particular day and time to potentially serve on a jury.

When a prospective juror arrives at his or her assigned court, the 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 he or she has been asked to report for jury duty. At that time the juror may be informed that services are not needed for that day.

What It Means for Employed Workers

An employee who has been called for jury duty is either picked to serve on a jury or dismissed. If dismissed reasonably early in the day, an employer can expect the employee to come to work for the remainder of the day. On the other hand, the employee can be selected to serve on a jury that goes on for months and can be sequestered. An employer’s jury duty policy needs to take all of these factors into consideration.

Jury Duty Leave

Jury duty leave provides a paid or unpaid absence from work when an employee is required to report for jury duty. Jury duty availability is mandated by law. Thus, employers in almost every state are required by law 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.

Employee Pay on a State by State Basis

Because the laws vary from state to state, when developing your company jury duty policy, check with your state department of labor and the US Department of Labor to ascertain the laws that govern jury duty in your particular state.

In some states, employers are told how long an employee must be allowed to serve on a jury. And in some states, employers must continue to pay the employee while he or she is on jury duty. It all depends on your state.

The majority of states leave an employer's jury duty policy up to the employer. But, 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 his or her regular pay while reporting for jury duty.

States Favor the Employee

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 the private sector.

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

Federal Courts

According to the U.S. Department of Labor:

"An employer cannot make deductions for absences of an exempt employee due to jury duty, serving as a witness or military leave. The employer may offset any amount received by an exempt employee as jury fees; witness fees or temporary military pay for a particular week against the salary due for that particular week. The employee need not be paid for any workweek during which he or she performs no work; for example, when an employee is on temporary leave for military duty for the entire workweek."

According to the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, “Federal law does not require employers to pay their non-exempt employees’ wages for jury duty. Employers are, however, required to (1) consider employees on a leave of absence during jury service; (2) continue their insurance and other benefits according to established leave of absence policies; and (3) reinstate employees to their positions without loss of seniority.”

Paid Jury Duty Leave

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment for time not worked by an employee, including reporting for jury duty. This type of paid leave benefit is usually a matter of agreement between an employer and an employee or the employer and the employee’s union representative.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), of employees who work in state government, 92 percent receive paid jury duty leave. Of employees who work in local government employment, 88 percent receive paid jury duty leave. Federal employees receive their regular salary while they perform jury duty.

In the private sector, 68 percent 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 national location.

It's probably worth your time to look at a sample jury duty policy that presents best practices for an employer of choice who wishes to retain skilled employees.