Overview: Legal requirements to allow employees to take time off to perform civic duties generally fall to the states or municipalities.
Serving on a jury is protected by both federal and state laws. The federal Jury Systems Improvement Act prohibits employers from punishing employees who serve or are called to serve jury duty and requires jurors to be reinstated to their positions upon completion of jury service. Most states have jury duty laws that are equal to or more stringent than the federal law. For example, the federal law does not require employers to pay employees on jury duty leave, but some state laws require employees to be paid for the first few days of jury service, less any compensation from the court. Also, state laws may have rules related to employee notification to the employer and jury service postponement requests. Some states also protect employees appearing in court as a witness; a crime victim; a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault and/or stalking; and a family member of such victims.
Voting in local, state and federal elections is another important civic duty. However, there are no federal laws requiring employers to provide employees with time off to vote. Most states do require employers to provide time off to vote, unless polls are open for a minimum amount of time before or after an employee's work shift. Some states also protect the employment of appointed election officials on election days while they perform their election duties and require leaves of absence for elected officials and members of the state General or Legislative Assembly.
Trends: Courts only accept the most urgent of excuses to get out of jury duty (e.g., serious health problem). That an employee is very busy at work or that the employer will be short-staffed are usually not considered urgent by a court. Employers certainly should not punish employees who are unable to postpone or get out of jury duty.
Author: Melissa S. Burdorf, JD, XpertHR Legal Editor
Updated to reflect amendments expanding protections for jurors, effective September 1, 2019.
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Updated when to include, policy and guidance to reflect an employee's right to take unpaid time off to respond to a subpoena, effective June 6, 2016.
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