As you’re flipping through the mail, something official-looking catches your eye: a letter from the court. Your heart immediately sinks. Getting called in for jury duty is going to twist your life upside down, take you places you never wanted to go, and make work utterly impossible — or so you think.
If you’re a law-abiding citizen over the age of 18, you may have heard rumblings about the pains of jury duty: it’s a time suck, archaic, and could play out like an endless Law & Order rerun. But when you think about it, being on a jury and working towards justice is one of the engines that drives our democracy. And performing your civic duty should never make you feel uneasy, especially when it comes to your job. So if you’re an employee or employer stressed about that summons, have no fear. With some thoughtful education, planning, and communication, jury duty can be an easier, more enjoyable process for all:
How to navigate jury duty as an employer
- Brush up on your state’s laws and regulations: The amount of paid time off you’re required to give your employees varies by state. Pay attention to what your state requires to avoid being faced with pesky penalties.
- Be proactive about communicating that your employees’ jobs are safe: If your employee gets called in, it may very well put a strain on your business. Sure, you can commiserate with them, but be explicit about the fact that they’re protected while doing their civic duty.
- Have a plan in place: If an employee gets called away for a week, how much paid time off will you offer? Who will step in to cover them? When do they have to tell you they’ve been summoned? Thinking through these situations in advance will help smooth things over before the letter ever arrives.
- Be clear about your policies: The above-mentioned plan is only as good as the communication behind it. Make sure your employees have a solid understanding of the rules, so they can rest easy knowing exactly what will happen while they’re away.
- Understand that you may be summoned as well: First and foremost, stay cool. If you can’t step away from your business, you can either postpone your service, or in some areas, ask for an exemption. Carefully read the letter you received, as it will outline all the steps needed to handle your summons.
- Fire, threaten, intimidate, or coerce your employees for serving: It’s a big no-no that goes without saying.
- Be caught off guard: Jury duty is a disruption you’re guaranteed to face. Educate yourself and put a plan in place ahead of time. Your future self will thank you.
How to navigate jury duty as an employee
- Let your employer, manager, and teammates know as soon as you’re called up: The length of time you’ll have to serve is a complete unknown: it could take half a day, half a month, and in rare instances, half a year. Therefore, it’s important to notify your team immediately so they have ample time to plan around your absence.
- Understand your state’s laws and regulations: Your employee protections vary by state, and there’s a chance your employer may not be fully aware of them. The best way to protect yourself is to read up on your rights.
- Understand your employer’s policies before you show up to serve: When you’re in the courtroom, the last thing you want to do is try to decode your company’s jury duty policy. Knowing how much paid time off you can expect to receive, who will be covering for you, and how your employer expects you to handle loose ends, will make things much less stressful.
- Communicate your circumstances: If serving on the jury is going be hard financially, let the judicial committee know, as it may influence their consideration of you. Just be prepared to prove it with pay stubs, company policies, and other supporting documents.
- Worry about losing your job: Relax — you won’t lose your job for serving.
- Be afraid to ask questions: It’s your right to understand the full scope of the situation, both in regards to your employer’s policies as well as the length of the trial at hand. Ask away so everyone is on the same page.
- Wait until the last minute to read your summons: Many states, for example, will allow you to postpone your summons — but only if you respond by a certain date. Pro tip: rip open that letter as soon as it arrives.
- Go to court more than once a year: Legally, you’re only allowed to be summoned once every 12-month period. If you receive a summons sooner than that, get in touch with the court so they can correct the error.
Serving on a jury should be a meaningful way to participate in our country’s judicial system — and not a source of anguish back at the office. So when that jury duty letter crosses your path, try thinking about your day in court a little differently. With some foresight, you might actually enjoy sitting in a room with 12 strangers, all working together to reach a single goal.
For more information on the specific laws and protections offered in your state, check here.