Most people agree that civic duties are important. The fact is, many responsibilities such as jury duty and voting have to be performed during traditional work hours. For employers, allowing staff members to take time extra time off can affect the smooth operation of their businesses. Do you have to set aside the immediate interests of your company to let employees be good citizens? And if you give them time off to carry out these responsibilities, do you also have to pay them?
Many of these answers depend on state law, while others are covered by federal regulations. Here are some guidelines.
Jury and Witness Duty
The Fair Labor Standards Act does not require employers to pay for time off to fulfill jury duty, though some states do mandate that this time be paid. In most cases, it is a matter of agreement reached between employers and employees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 87 percent of employers surveyed say they do offer paid leave for jury duty.
Because a lengthy period of jury duty can be so disruptive, some employers may apply pressure to keep employees from serving on a jury, encouraging them to somehow get out of it. However, most states prohibit employers from firing or disciplining employees for jury service, and some states take this prohibition a step farther by making it illegal to discourage service.
Even if your state does not require that you pay employees for time spent in jury service, it may stipulate that employees can choose to use paid leave that they’ve accrued during this time. Once a policy is adopted at your company, make sure it is addressed clearly in your company handbook, leaving no room for misinterpretation.
State laws vary with respect to how much, if any, time must be given employees to allow them to take leave for voting. For more information about your state, check this link, provided by the National Federation of Business.
Your company’s “Jury and Witness Duty Leave” policy should include these elements:
Guarantee the right to jury service. Clearly state that employees won’t be penalized for service on a jury.
Define jury leave. Is the leave with or without pay? If you opt for leave with pay, have you specified a number of days per year? (Make sure employees know if money received from the court will be subtracted from their checks.) Also, define your witness leave policy. (Generally, employees called as witnesses are only allowed leave without pay.)
Identify jury duty exceptions. State your right to ask the court for a deferment of jury duty in the case of a “business necessity.”
Require proof of jury service. This usually involves a court summons.
List work conditions. For example: “Jurors released early from duty on workdays will call and ask their supervisors if they should report to work for the rest of the day.”
Almost every state prohibits employers from firing or disciplining employees for taking time off to vote, but not all require that the time off be paid.
In general, if the only way an employee can go to the polls is if the time is paid, employers must allow it. (See right-hand box for a link to see what your state’s laws are.)
More than half of all U.S. states mandate that employees must be allowed time off to vote if there isn’t sufficient time outside of working hours. Some states do specify that the time off can be limited (two to three hours) and allow employers to control when staff members take off. For example, the time may be limited to the beginning or end of shifts.
Make sure that the issue of voting is also spelled out clearly in your company handbook. In advance of upcoming elections, post your company’s policy on common area billboards.
Once again, almost every state prohibits employers from discriminating against those in the military, the state militia, the reserves, or the National Guard. In addition, most states also require employers to grant leave for certain types of military service.
That leave, however, is usually unpaid. (There are exceptions in some states for public employees.) When an employee returns from a military leave you must generally re-employ him or her without reducing pay, benefits, or status.