An unlikely employer recently found out that discharging or otherwise disciplining an employee for complying with jury duty is not only bad publicity but also violates Michigan law.
Specifically, the Detroit Free Press (by Christina Hall) reported that a law firm employee called for jury duty in a murder case pending in Macomb County Circuit Court allegedly produced a letter from her law firm employer indicating that if she did not return to work that she would be replaced. The law firm was not disclosed by the Free Press.
The Macomb County Circuit Court Judge, Mary Chrzanowski, found it “unbelievable” that a law firm had the “audacity to do this.”
The Judge is absolutely right. Jury service is a critical civic duty and a cornerstone of our democratic society. And I’m sure this law firm will be “reminded” about this the next time their attorneys appear before Judge Chrzanowski (I would hate to be the attorney to draw that short straw).
And this incident is also a good reminder for employers that Michigan – like most states – forbid employers from disciplining or discharging an employee because the employee obeyed or intended to obey a jury summons. See MCL § 600.1348. In fact, Michigan employers who take such action are guilty of a misdemeanor and may be held (and have been held) in contempt of court for violating this statute.
Take-aways for Employers when it comes to Employees and Jury Duty
In addition to the obvious, i.e., don’t discharge or discipline an employee for complying with jury duty, a few more points to consider:
Employees, even employees at will, may not be terminated for a reason that violates the public policy of the state, which includes complying with jury duty. Smetts v. Whiteford Systems, Inc., 1990 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3908 (W.D. Mich. Apr. 11, 1990)(denying motion for summary judgment because a question of fact remained as to whether plaintiff’s juror summons was a “significant factor” in employer’s decision to discharge plaintiff).
Employers should have a jury duty provision in their employee handbook. Among the topics that this provision should address are:
- Describing the procedures an employee is required to follow after being notified that the employee has been summoned for jury service.
- If the employee is excused from jury duty, must the employee return to work that day?
- Determining whether employees will be paid during their leave for jury duty and, if so, at what rate? Also, how will any pay an employee received from the courts for jury duty be handled?
In regard to this last point, it is important to note jury duty pay issues may bring into play the Fair Labor Standards Act. Consider for example that under the overtime regulations, employees must be paid on a salary basis to be considered exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements. 29 CFR 541.602. There are a number of requirements to meet this exemption, including deductions may not be made for absences due to jury duty or attendance as a witness. 29 CFR 541.602(a). An employer, however, may offset any jury or witness pay received by the employee against the salary due for the week in question. 29 CFR 541.602(b)(3).
As with any content on this site, this material should not be used as a substitute for an attorney’s independent judgment, drafting, and research of your particular situation.