Do You Have to Permit Employees to Vote or Serve on Juries?
written by: Matthew Craig•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 10/8/2011
So your employee has been called to jury duty. Or, he or she wants to cause an upheaval in the political infrastructure by voting. Understanding your employee's rights and responsibilities related to these civic duties, as well as your obligations and rights related to these processes, is vital.
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Jury duty and voting are at the core of civic duty. While many place varying values upon jury duty, and voting is completely optional, there are certain responsibilities and obligations that you as an employer must adhere to when or if an individual on your payroll gets the call to serve on a jury. There are also rights that pertain to the employee in terms of voting, even though voting is completely optional.
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The Call of the Gavel
If an employee receives a call for jury duty, federal law requires that you as an employer must provide the employee time to fulfill his or her civic responsibility. However, state law varies as to what extent the employer is to provide these rights and benefits regarding jury duty. For example, in Massachusetts, if an employee's lucky number is drawn for the jury lotto, an employer must pay the employee his normal wage for at least three normal working days. This applies whether the employee is full-time, part-time, or even temporary. An exception to this is in a scenario when the employee has been called to jury duty in a federal case, wherein federal law applies and does not necessarily require such compensation.
Termination from employment for serving jury duty is strictly prohibited in all states. In some states such as Massachusetts, the same principle applies for employees who have been subpoenaed to testify in a court proceeding. Although the law does not require the employee to pay for time missed, in contrast to a jury summons, if the employer chooses not to do so the employee and his attorney could very easily raise the general issue of retaliation or punishment for performing a civic duty.
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There is relatively recent case law regarding an employee who was unlawfully terminated for serving on jury duty. In Shaffer v. ACS Government Services, Inc., 321 F. Supp. 2d 682, (2004), an employee was called for service on a grand jury. The employee properly notified his employer regarding this call for service. Upon being called for jury selection, the individual was subsequently called for service. Approximately two months later, the employee was terminated.
The employer's position was that the defendant had agreed to arbitration in the event of any termination by the employee via signing an employee manual, as well as the act of continued employment inferring this agreement. The court found that continued employment does not constitute an agreement; neither does signing a broad topic employee manual that does fully address the issue. The court also found that these actions by the employee did not provide sufficient legal agreement to arbitration, as required by law to suffice an agreement. Subsequent cases have also relied on this as precedent.
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Most states require employees to submit reasonable accommodations that allow an employee to exercise his or her right to vote.
In this case, reasonable notification and communication are also required by the employee to alert the employer of his or her intentions to vote. Some states require a two- to three-hour window to be provided, if the polls are closed after working hours. Pennsylvania is one exception to any rights or protections pertaining to an employee wishing to vote during working hours, so don't take off time from the steel plant to exercise your civic right if you live in the Keystone State.
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The Bottom Line
Unless you happen to wake up one day with a desire to cause yourself or your company an intense lawsuit, do not interfere with an employee's rights for jury duty or voting. In states such as California, Kansas, Arizona, and Missouri, it can be an expensive day at the office. Damages have been rendered for anywhere between $2,500 and $10,000 for such stupidity on the part of the employer. In the case of civic rights and duties, research the applicable state law that guides these rights, responsibilities, and obligations in your state. Knowledge is power, and the absence of ignorance equals piece of mind.
Specifically, when the issue of voting is at hand, it is of unequivocal importance to be abreast of state statutes regarding your obligations as an employer, as well as what the employee must provide. For example, you as an employer may require that the employee provide written or stamped validation that he or she was present and served on a jury or was present for voir dire (jury selection). However, in any case, specific and clear communication in written and verbal form regarding both the employee's and the employer's rights and responsibilities is essential in either a jury or voting situation.