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Jury Duty and an Employee's Right to Pay

Many prospective jurors cite a loss of pay as a legitimate reason for not serving on a jury.

Yet juries play an important and crucial role in our country's democratic process. Without them, our legal system would grind to a halt. This push and pull requires both employer and employee to make sacrifices when an employee is called for jury duty.

Question: Does the law protect employees who serve on juries?

Answer: To prevent employers from intimidating employees from serving on juries, many states have laws that prohibit employers from engaging in threatening or retaliatory tactics. In Maine, for example, an employer may not intimidate an employee by threatening to take away health insurance coverage and in North Dakota, an employer cannot layoff, penalize, coerce, or dock the pay of an employee because of jury duty service.

Laws vary by state, but some impose certain obligations on employees before protection will apply. For instance, in Tennessee it is necessary to provide proof of jury duty by presenting the employer with the summons the day after its receipt and in Alabama the employee must return to work within the next scheduled hour after jury duty ends. In other states, on the other hand, the employee only needs to give "reasonable notice" of a jury duty summons.

Question: Does an employer have to pay an employee for jury duty service?

Answer: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a federal law, does not require employers to pay employees for jury duty service. Consequently, unless provided by state law or company policy, an employer does not have to pay an employee for serving on a jury. However, according to the Employee Benefits Survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 87 percent of employers in the U.S. offered paid leave for jury duty.

While the majority of states do not mandate paying employees for jury duty, a few states do. In Connecticut, for instance, full-time workers are entitled to regular pay for the first 5 days of jury duty and after the fifth day, the employee can receive up to $50 per day from the state. Separate from employers, courts often pay jurors a modest amount each day for jury service.

Question: What penalties is an employer subject to for a violation of a jury duty statute?

Answer: An employer that violates a jury duty statute may be subject to penalties. Penalties vary from state to state, but in many circumstances, regardless of the penalty stated by law, a discharged employee may be able to file a lawsuit to recover back pay. In many states, an employer that penalizes or fires an employer can be charged with a misdemeanor. For example, in Colorado, such a violation is punishable with a fine of $250 to $1,000 or 3 to 12 months imprisonment, or both. In Massachusetts, a violation is punishable with a fine of up to $500 or up to 90 days imprisonment, or both. In other states, such as California, the misdemeanor entitles the employee to reinstatement, back pay, lost wages, and benefits.

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