More than 400,000 people are randomly summoned for compulsory jury service in the UK each year. Jury service usually lasts up to two weeks and losing an employee for this length of time can be very inconvenient for both colleagues and employers.
Stephanie Whitchurch, solicitor at Tallents in Newark says:
Very few employers are aware of their rights and obligations when an employee is called for jury service and this lack of understanding can prove very costly.
Stephanie is keen to ensure that employers, and employees, have a basic understanding of what they are entitled to if this situation occurs.
Most adults aged between 18 and 70 can be called for jury service at any time. The selection is made randomly from the electoral register. Unless the potential juror falls into an agreed exempt category, it is unlikely they will be excused from jury service. Excusals and deferrals are not easily obtained unless exceptional circumstances apply.
If an employer does not give employees time off if they are selected for jury service, the employer could be held in contempt of court if they refuse to release the employee.
The Employment Rights Act 1996 gives the employee some protection if the jury service causes them to be unfairly treated by their employer or even dismissed because they were on jury service. However, to receive the protection the employee also has to comply with several obligations under the Act.
It’s much easier to consult a solicitor earlier and set out everyone’s rights and obligations in a Staff Handbook, rather than fight about it later. This can be a confusing and complex area of the law to fully understand and comply with.
Employers are not obliged to pay employees while they are away from work. The courts will not make any payments to employers for the loss of the employee’s work while they were away from their job.
Many employers will continue to pay employees their full salaries as a gesture of goodwill but legally they don’t have to. To pay or not pay jurors is a real headache for many employers. Not only can jury duty be expensive for employers but it can also cause tax and national insurance implications and create more paperwork.
Jurors can claim a ‘loss of earnings’ allowance, although this is capped at a set level per day and is dependent on the length of jury service served. If an employer withdraws the employee’s salary while they are absent, then some employers may decide to top up the ‘loss of earnings’ allowance to ensure that their staff are not financially penalized, but again this is not compulsory.
We urge all employers to take legal advice regarding jury service and set out their legal and financial obligations very clearly in their Staff Handbooks, so that employees can understand what they are entitled to and when.
For more advice on employment law, please visit this page.