My colleague, Jarad Lucan (who just won a New Leader of the Law award from the Connecticut Law Tribune!) returns today with a post about the protections employees who testify in court may have.
Most employers (at least those employers that read this blog on a regular basis) know that it is illegal to subject an employee to an adverse employment action, such as termination, because that employee raised a claim of discrimination or was absent from work due to a serious health condition.
But what if your employee is summoned to court to fulfill his or her civic responsibility as a juror or is subpoenaed to provide witness testimony during a criminal proceeding? Is an employer similar restricted in the actions it takes against an employee for participating in such activities?
The answer is “Yes.” There are numerous statutes applicable to Connecticut employers providing protections to employees who attend jury duty or appear in court.
- Connecticut General Statute §51-247a prohibits an employer from discharging, threatening to discharge, or otherwise coercing an employee for responding to a summons or serving on a jury. In addition, any employee who serves eight hours of jury duty in any one day must be deemed to have worked a full day’s work and an employer cannot require an employee to work in excess of those eight hours. Any employee who is discharged in violation of this statute may bring a civil action against his or her employer for up to ten weeks’ wages plus attorneys’ fees.
- Connecticut General Statute § 54-85b prohibits, among other things, an employer from discharging, threatening, penalizing, or coercing an employee who obeys a legal subpoena to appear before any court in the state as a witness in any criminal proceeding.
Further, this statute was amended in 2010 to provide protection to victims of family violence who attend court proceedings and who participate in police investigations related to that crime. These employees also may not be discriminated against for having a protective order issued on their behalf.
An employee who is discharged, threatened, penalized or coerced in violation of this statute may bring a civil action for damages and for an order requiring the employee’s reinstatement or otherwise rescinding such action. If the employee prevails, the employee shall be allowed a reasonable attorney’s fee to be fixed by the court.
Aside from any possible civil liability, employers that violate either statute may be guilty of criminal contempt, and upon conviction, may be required to pay a $500 fine and serve up to thirty days in prison, or both.
- Under federal law, 28 U.S.C. § 1875 prohibits employers from discharging or taking any other adverse employment action (threatening to discharge, intimidating, etc.) against a permanent employee because that employee provides jury services in federal court. Employers that violate this statute may be sued for back pay, reinstatement, and attorneys’ fees and may be fined up to $5,000.
- Lastly, employees who testify on behalf of another employee in a discrimination claim may also be protected under both federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Dan reported on the U.S. Supreme Court’s case back in 2011 that discussed what this “zone of interest” may look like.