Issue: Can a small organization point to its size as a valid reason to deny jury-duty leave?
Risk: State law exemptions won't necessarily protect you from this type of lawsuit.
Action: All organizations must grant leave for jury duty (but not always paid leave). Plus, you can't retaliate against workers for taking leave.
Federal law and many state laws give em-ployees the right to take leave to serve as jurors, and those laws apply to all employers, not just large organizations. So don't try to dissuade employees from serving.
The Federal Jury Systems Improvement Act, which applies to jurors in federal courts, doesn't require you to pay employees for jury-duty leave. But some state laws do provide additional rights to employees who serve on state and local juries, including requiring employers to pay for jury-leave time. To search an interactive map of state jury-duty laws, go to www.toolkit.cch. com/text/P05_4340.asp.
Recent case: Julia Sheeran worked as a law firm's office manager for 24 years. Soon after Sheeran served a three-day jury stint, the firm fired her. Sheeran sued, allegingin violation of the state's public policy.
The law firm argued that state law exempted small businesses in certain industries with fewer than 15 employees from the mandate of allowing employees to serve as jurors. The law firm claimed that the rule effectively allows small firm employees to opt out of jury duty.
But a district court disagreed, saying the state law's intent was not to let employees avoid jury service nor eliminate employees' right to bring claims for wrongful discharge, but instead to shield small businesses from paying the criminal fees in wrongful-termination cases. The court said the "mischief" created by the law firm's interpretation would allow too many people to avoid jury service. (Sheeran v. Kubert Himmelstein & Associates, Philadelphia C.C.P., 2003)
Require jury-service proof
Before employees begin jury-duty leave, require them to show their supervisor a summons or other proof of service. Don't just take their word for it.
Case in point: The Miami-Dade County Clerk's office arrested an employee in December for falsely claiming federal jury duty for six months. He collected $17,388 in pay during that time. The court originally summoned the man for one day of jury duty but then didn't need him. Still, he continued his lie for six months until his boss finally asked for proof. He quickly resigned, and when the boss checked with the courthouse, he discovered that the man never served one day.
What about 'witness leave'?
Jury-duty leave is not the same as "witness leave" or "court attendance" leave. In most states, you are free to set your own policy in that area.
But according to CCH Inc., laws in at least 17 states require you to provide em-ployees with time off to serve as witnesses in court or attend or prepare for court proceedings. Those states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Virginia and the District of Columbia. Those laws may also prohibit you from discriminating against employees who take such leave.
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