The cost of jury service

The twelve men and women who faced the world’s media on 14 June to explain why they had acquitted Michael Jackson were at the end of a four-month process.

Like all juries they were ordinary people, selected at random from the local population.

Most of them probably had jobs, and so, employers and colleagues were having to cope without them for all of those four months.

In the UK 450,000 people are summoned as jurors every year, often causing problems for their employers and colleagues.

In the UK, new laws about how employers must treat members of staff who are called for jury service came into effect on 6 April.

Mini Setty, associate in the employment department of law firm Shoosmiths outlined the new laws.

“Under sections 43M and 98B of the Employment Rights Act 1996 an employee has the right not to be subjected to a detriment or to be dismissed because he or she has been summoned to attend for jury service or has been absent from work because of jury service,” Setty said.

Gillian Dowling, an HR consultant at information provider Croner, explaine the exceptions to this rule.

“An employer only has the right to dismiss an employee in connection with jury service if the employee’s absence is likely to cause substantial injury to the employer’s undertaking, the employer brought those circumstances to the employee’s attention, and the employee either unreasonably refused or failed to apply for an excusal or a deferral from jury service.”

People who have been called for jury service can ask for it to be deferred once.

They have to give a good reason for doing so, and jury officers can decide not to grant the request.

A letter from an employer, explaining why the individual is needed at work, can carry some weight. However, the jury service still has to be done within the following 12 months.

It is therefore important for companies to prepare contingency plans for the likelihood that members of staff will be required to serve on a jury.

One frequently contentious area is pay. Although many do, employers are not obliged to pay staff during their jury service.

The courts pay travelling expenses, parking costs, taxi costs, fees paid to carers or child minders, and a small amount of compensation for loss of earnings. The latter usually requires a certificate of loss of earnings from the employer.

Whatever policy a company adopts, it is vital that everyone is aware of it and that it is consistently applied.

Companies should also make plans to cover the employee’s absence.

This need not be as onerous as it first appears.

Most jurors are only required to serve for 10 days, and courts usually give at least six to eight weeks notice of jury duty, so it ought to be no more difficult than arranging cover for an employee who has gone on annual leave.

As Judith Watson, head of employment law at solicitors Cobbetts, said, it is often possible for staff to work while performing jury duty.

“I was summoned in May,” she said. “I talked it over with the managing partner, and we agreed that, rather than defer it, it would be better to get it out of the way.

“The firm kept paying me, and I found that using my laptop and mobile phone I was able to do quite a lot of work while we were waiting around at the court.”

She concedes that it might not be possible for everyone, recalling a fellow juror – a social worker – who had been worried about her work piling up over the fortnight.

But Watson concluded: “Jury Service is one of the most important civic duties that anyone can be asked to perform, and companies ought to support people in doing it.

“Those who find it causes them problems are generally those companies that are badly run in the first place.”

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