What does it feel like winning the lottery? I don’t know but it has to feel a lot like getting picked for jury duty.

(Wait, am I the only one to get excited at the prospect of jury duty? <grins sheepishly>)

If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you may remember that I’ve been called to jury duty before.  Sometimes, it’s been cancelled but back in 2011, I made it all the way to a courtroom — only to be dismissed when I noted that I knew the attorneys at both lawfirms.

Anyways….I’ve been called to jury duty again next week, which gave me the inspiration for this week’s Employment Law Checklist Project post #emplawchecklist. The law is found in a different section than most — and a reminder that not all the laws that employers have to follow are in one neat package.

In fact, this might be one of more confusing employment laws out there.

The key portions of jury duty are actually found in two separate provisions. If your eyes glaze over at the laws, just skip to the summary down below.

Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 51-247 states:

(a) Each full-time employed juror shall be paid regular wages by the juror’s employer for the first five days, or part thereof, of jury service. Such payment shall be subject to the requirements of section 31-71b and any employer who violates this section shall be subject to the provisions of sections 31-71g and 31-72. A person shall not be considered a full-time employed juror on any day of jury service in which such person (1) would not have accrued regular wages to be paid by the employer if such person were not serving as a juror on that day, or (2) would not have worked more than one-half of a shift which extends into another day if such person were not serving as a juror on that day. Each juror not considered a full-time employed juror on a particular day of jury service pursuant to subdivision (1) or (2) of this subsection shall be reimbursed by the state for necessary out-of-pocket expenses incurred during that day of jury service, provided such day of service is within the first five days, or part thereof, of jury service. Each part-time employed juror and unemployed juror shall be reimbursed by the state for necessary out-of-pocket expenses incurred during the first five days, or part thereof, of jury service. Necessary out-of-pocket expenses shall include, but not be limited to, twenty cents for each mile of travel from the juror’s place of residence to the place of holding the court and return, and shall exclude food. The mileage shall be determined by the shortest direct route either by highway or by any regular line of conveyance between the points. A reimbursement award under this subsection for each day of service shall not be less than twenty dollars or more than fifty dollars. For the purposes of this subsection, “full-time employed juror” means an employee holding a position normally requiring thirty hours or more of service in each week, which position is neither temporary nor casual, and includes an employee holding a position through a temporary help service, as defined in section 31-129, which position normally requires thirty hours or more of service in each week, who has been working in that position for a period exceeding ninety days, and “part-time employed juror” means an employee holding a position normally requiring less than thirty hours of service in each week or an employee working on a temporary or casual basis. In the event that a juror may be considered to be both a full-time employed juror and a part-time employed juror for any day of the first five days, or part thereof, of jury service, such juror shall, for the purposes of this section, be considered to be a full-time employed juror only.

Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 51-247a goes on as follows:

(a) An employer shall not deprive an employee of his or her employment, or threaten or otherwise coerce the employee with respect to his or her employment, because the employee receives a summons in accordance with the provisions of section 51-232, responds to the summons, or serves as a juror.

(b) Any juror-employee who has served eight hours of jury duty in any one day shall be deemed to have worked a legal day’s work as that term is used in section 31-21 and an employer shall not require the juror-employee to work in excess of said eight hours.

(c) Any employer who violates this section shall be guilty of criminal contempt, and, upon conviction thereof, may be fined not more than five hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty days, or both.

(d) If an employer discharges an employee in violation of this section, the employee, within ninety days of such discharge, may bring a civil action for recovery of wages lost as a result of the violation and for an order requiring reinstatement of the employee. Damages recoverable shall not exceed lost wages for ten weeks. If the employee prevails, the employee shall be allowed a reasonable attorney’s fee fixed by the court.

(e) Any employer who fails to compensate a juror-employee pursuant to section 51-247 and who has not been excused from such duty to compensate a juror-employee pursuant to section 51-247c shall be liable to the juror-employee for damages. The juror may commence a civil action in any superior court having jurisdiction over the parties. Extreme financial hardship on the employer shall not be a defense to such action. The court may award treble damages and reasonable attorney’s fees to the juror upon a finding of wilful conduct by the employer.

Scope:  We’ve talked about this in other posts before; the definition of an employer varies. Here, there isn’t a definition that is readily apparent.  BUT, the law here talks about how “any employer who violates this section shall be subject to the provisions of sections 31-71g and 31-72”. So it seems a reference to the state’s wage/hour law is the best assumption. THAT definition, found at Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-58 has a broad definition to include basically all employers in the state “including the state and any political subdivision thereof”.

Are All Employees Covered? Yes and no. There are really two broad general principles in play here.  Full-time employees must be compensated in some way and regardless, all employees are given job protection.  Read on.

What’s Prohibited or Required? More than you might initially think about this law.  First and foremost, an employer can’t fire an employee or “threaten or coerce” an employee who receives a notice of jury duty.  Second, an employee who serves 8 hours of jury duty, can’t be required to work more during that day.  Third, every “full-time employed juror” has to be paid by the employer for the first five days of jury service.

Is this for State Court or Federal Court or Both? These laws only cover state jury duty.  There’s another set of rules for federal court jury duty.

What’s a “Full-Time Employed” Juror Anyways? It means an employee who normally works 30 or more hours per week, except the position can’t be “temporary or casual”. Oh, and the employee has to be in the position for at least 90 days.  BUT, there’s an exception: An employee isn’t “full-time employed” for purposes of compensation if, on any day of jury service, he/she wasn’t scheduled to work (and is an non-exempt employee) or wouldn’t have worked more than half of a shift that goes to another day.  (Simple, right?)

Are there “Part-Time Employed” Jurors? Yes! That is anyone who normally works less than 30 hours per week, or is in a “temporary or casual” position.  Any juror who isn’t “Full-Time Employed” on a particular jury service day, has to be reimbursed by the state, not the employer.

What if Jurors Serve More than Five Days? In such a case — regardless of whether full or part time — the juror is entitled to compensation from the state. $50 per day.  Which, to be clear, is less than minimum wage now. Just saying.

Private Right of Action or Other Penalty Allowed? Yes! Employers who violate the law are guilty of “criminal contempt”.  Employees can also sue in court for recovery of wages and reinstatement to a job (if fired).  And employees can also recover the compensation that they should be paid while out of jury duty.

What May Be Recovered? It depends.  If it’s a criminal matter, the employer may be fined up to $500 and serve 30 days in prison.

If the employee is fired, the employee may seek wages up to 10 weeks and also attorney’s fees.  If the employee doesn’t get compensation for jury duty, the employee can seek “damages” as well as treble damages and attorneys fees — if there is a finding that the employer acted “willfully”.  And note, employers can’t use “extreme financial hardship” as a defense for failing to pay an employee out on jury duty.

Can An Employer Be Excused From Paying Employees? Yes! An employer can file a written application with the court for a waiver.

What If An Employee’s Jury Duty is in Federal Court? As noted above, then a different set of rules apply — namely federal ones. (And since this post is already way too long and federal law is outside the scope of this project, there’s a good recap at the CBIA’s website here.)

Any Practical Steps Employers Can Take? Yes.  First, have a policy regarding jury duty.   Figure out what you’re going to pay and when. And then make sure it’s consistently applied. Employers can ask employees for verification of jury duty and employees will get paperwork from the state regarding such service.

But beyond that, be flexible. Jury Duty is an essential part of our judicial system.  While you may not feel like your employees hit the lottery when called, it is a uniquely American process. 

Any Other Interesting Information or Background? If you’re ever called to jury duty, read the FAQ from the court.  And don’t bring your television with you. (Seriously, that’s in the FAQ which advises that prospective jurors should not bring disruptive items “such as a portable radio, television, CD, MP3, tape player…”)