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Jury duty: How to manage leave requests and pay issues

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in Admins,Employment Law,Firing,FMLA Guidelines,Hiring,Human Resources,Office Management

THE LAW. No one is immune from jury duty. Even Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was called for duty in his Massachusetts hometown. Al-though Breyer was dismissed from the pool, typical working stiffs can't expect to be so lucky. And their employers will have to cope.

Judges take jury duty very seriously. You should do the same.

You must allow employees time off for service, and you can't retaliate against them for it. But, in most states, you aren't required to pay them while they're on jury duty. Still, 87 percent of employers do offer paid leave for jury-duty service, according to a government study. Some states, such as Tennessee, require employers who offer other types of paid leave to provide paid leave for jury duty.

Courts typically give jurors at least 30 days' notice. Employers can use the same notification requirement that the FMLA mandates: Employees must provide at least 30 days' notice when leave is foreseeable. If leave isn't foreseeable, the employee should notify you "as soon as practicable" of his or her jury-duty leave.

WHAT'S NEW. U.S. troop deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have focused attention on leave policies for employees fulfilling military obligations. Jury duty is a similar civic duty.

If you pay employees the difference between their reservist military pay and their regular work pay, you should do the same for jury-duty leave. As a general rule, similar types of leave should be treated similarly in employee handbooks.

Incorporate jury-duty leave into your organization's overall leave policy. If the leave is unpaid, make sure employees taking jury-duty leave have the same rights as those taking unpaid FMLA leave.

Another parallel to the FMLA: Employees returning from jury duty generally have the right to be reinstated to the same job they held before. But unlike the FMLA, this is a matter of state law.

Appearances are important, too.

Example: After a Philadelphia company fired its office manager soon after she returned from jury duty, she sued, claiming the firing came in retaliation for her service. The company won only because it had documentation to prove it planned to replace her. Still, the firing's poor timing caused the company to pay for a legal defense.

HOW TO COMPLY. Establish a jury-duty policy based on state law that specifies whether employees will be paid during jury service (full or partial pay) and, if so, for how long. Explain how the time off is treated. Your jury-duty leave policy should mesh with the rest of your leave policy. Set reasonable policies for notification and reinstatement rights upon return.

Fairness and flexibility are the watchwords when processing jury-leave requests. Your policy should be flexible enough to handle various contingencies, including if employees are called as witnesses.

To prevent work-flow problems, set contingency plans to reallocate work when employees are out for jury duty (or any other reason). This may include hiring temps, shuffling job duties or having co-workers pick up the slack.

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