How California Law Interacts with Jury Duty Service
While jury duty is one of the foundational pieces of the United States justice system, receiving a summons for jury duty can nonetheless be a source of frustration. Participation in a jury is one of your compulsory civic duties as an American citizen, and you are obligated to appear when summoned. However, jury duty is likely to consume at least one full day of your time, regardless of the needs of your job. Should you be selected for a jury trial, you could be sequestered for weeks or even months.
Should you be mandated into a lengthier term of jury service, you may be concerned about your employment. Your boss might be even more frustrated than you are, since participating in a jury generally means you will be unable to come to work for a considerable length of time. Many wonder if an employer can legally fire or penalize you should you become unavailable as a result of jury duty. Below, we review your rights as a worker and juror in these situations and steps you can take to mitigate the practical inconveniences of jury duty.
California Law Surrounding Jury Duty
Some employers may nevertheless attempt unlawful means of discouraging or preventing jury duty, including:
- Threatening to reduce hours or pay should an employee go to jury duty
- Threatening a demotion or transfer to a less desirable position should an employee go to jury duty
- Threatening to rescind benefits should an employee go to jury duty
- Verbal harassment or intimidation in an attempt to coerce an employee to not go to jury duty
- Threatening dismissal should an employee go to jury duty
All of the above behaviors, and any other retaliatory measures, are illegal. You may have heard that California is an “at-will” employment state, meaning employers can dismiss employees for effectively any reason. This is on some level accurate, but there are numerous legal exceptions to circumstances in which an employer can fire an employee, one of which involves jury duty. In other words, despite the state’s at-will status, there is a specific exemption that prevents employers from firing employees for participating in jury duty.
The only exception to this rule is if you fail to give your boss “reasonable” notice of your jury duty obligations. If you simply fail to appear for work with no notice, however, but later explain you had to appear in court, you may not be protected from disciplinary measures. That is why it is important you inform your boss as soon as you receive a jury summons and keep them updated as you move through the process.
It is also legal for your boss to request proof of your jury summons. You can provide this in the form of any formal communication from the court involving your jury service.
Does My Boss Have to Pay Me While I Am Away at Jury Duty?
In short, no. Your boss is not obligated to continue paying you while you participate in jury service, no matter how long it lasts.
This element can get complicated depending on your type of employment. If you are an hourly worker, time away from your job can be devastating to your personal financial situation and should be noted in your communications with the court, particularly during the jury selection process. While jurors selected to trial are paid a small daily fee, it is often not enough to match what you might have made at your regular job.
If you are in a salaried position, you may need to consult your employment agreement or your employer directly. Some positions have provisions regulating jury duty, including a certain number of “paid” jury duty days, built into the agreement. It should be noted, though, that your employer is not obligated to pay you for days missed for jury duty, even if you are salaried.
To make up the difference, employees in California are permitted to utilize vacation days, sick days, or other paid time off for time they miss work as a result of jury service. These hours must have been accrued and otherwise available to the employee at the time of the service.
What You Should Do If You Receive a Jury Summons
The first thing that is essential to understand is jury service is, while inconvenient, not optional. As an American citizen, it is mandatory that you appear or otherwise respond to your summons.
Not appearing for a jury summons can result in your being held in contempt of court, which can carry the following penalties:
- Up to a $250 fine for a first violation
- Up to $750 fine for a second violation
- Up to $1,500 fine for any additional violations
- Up to 5 days in prison
Many California courts may decide to show leniency after an initial missed summons and instead issue a second without penalty. It is possible, though, that you receive a fine (or worse) after missing your first court date, so it is critical you take action.
Once you receive a jury summons, inform your boss as soon as possible. This will ensure you meet the “reasonable notice” threshold and protect you from any disciplinary measures. Be specific about the circumstances, including the court date and time in which you are expected to appear. Hopefully, your boss will be understanding of your civic obligations and plan around your temporary absence. Chances are, neither party wants you to get sucked into a protracted jury trial, and both are aware that navigating jury service is a fact of life.
Can My Boss Ask Me to Postpone Jury Service?
If your job is facing a looming deadline, you are in the midst of finishing a major project only you can handle, or if the business is otherwise especially busy, your boss might ask you to postpone your jury service. This is a bit of a gray area, legally, but not necessarily unlawful for your boss to ask.
You may ultimately choose to postpone your jury service or argue during the jury selection process that your presence may cause a “serious disruption” to your place of employment. However, you must make this decision on your own, and your employer cannot force or intimidate you into doing so.
In California, you are permitted to postpone your jury service two times within the year from your original summons date. In all likelihood, you will eventually be obligated to appear, and there is no guarantee your postponement requests will be granted. Mentioning disruption to your place of employment has historically been a factor taken seriously by the state’s courts.
While every case is different, it may be in everyone’s best interest to “strategically” request to postpone jury service. If you work an hourly job at a Christmas-oriented store, for example, and are summoned for service in December, your absence will not only cause disruption for the business during the busiest season of the year, it will deprive you of hours. Therefore, you may independently choose to postpone jury service to make sure you get as many holiday hours as possible. Remember, though, that your boss cannot intimidate you into making this decision, and the court may not honor your postponement request.
What Should I Do if My Employer Retaliates Against Me Due to Jury Service?
The good news is there are serious penalties for employers who violate rules involving jury service, which is considered a criminal offense. If you successfully sue your employer, they can be forced to reinstate you (if you were dismissed), provide full back pay for lost wages, and restore any lost benefits.
Your first move should be to retain the services of an experienced employment attorney, like the ones who make up our team at K2 Employment Law Group. You will want to gather all available evidence, including documentation relating to your jury summons, any correspondence with your employer, pay sheets reflecting a change in employment before and after the jury service, and anything else that can support your case. Our employment lawyers can help you assess the evidence available and build your case, pursuing both economic and non-economic damages as the situation warrants. In addition to filing a lawsuit, we can explore filing a complaint with the California Department of Industrial Relations.
If you were the victim of harassment or retaliation as a result of honoring your civic duty, do not wait to get in touch. Call (800) 590-7674 or contact us online so we can start assisting you today.