Jury service in peak season – what can an employer do?

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For many businesses the summer season is the busiest time of year but what can you do when a critical employee is called up for jury service threatening the whole business operation?

It must be remembered that employees who have been called up to attend jury service have statutory protection and cannot be subjected to any detrimental treatment or dismissal for being absent on jury service regardless of their length of service.

However, where the employee’s absence because of jury service is going to cause substantial harm to the business the employee may be requested to make an application for their attendance to be deferred or excused. 

The automatic unfair dismissal protection will not apply where the employee has unreasonably failed to make such an application in circumstances where they have been made aware that their absence will cause substantial harm to the business.

If the employee has made the request and the court refuses it then the protection will still apply regardless of how detrimental the employee’s absence will be for the business.

In practice it will clearly be better if the business is able to arrange for cover and so avoid having to depend on the employee making a request and the court agreeing to it.

It will help if there is a policy in place requiring that employees notify their line manager as soon as they receive a jury summons which will allow as much time as possible for the business to arrange cover.

Failing to comply with the policy and leaving notification until the last minute could even be treated as misconduct. 

If cover can be arranged, then the costs to the employer may be limited. There is no right for an employee to continue to receive pay while they are absent due to jury service. The employee will be able to claim an amount from the court for their attendance up to certain limits. An employer may agree to make up any shortfall but there is no legal requirement to do so and it will not be regarded as a detriment if the employer refuses to do so. The cost to the employer may therefore be limited to paying the wages for the temporary cover.  

One further complication is that the amount of time that an employee may be required to serve on a jury is not fixed, and so the period of cover arranged will need to be open ended and possibly to the end of the busy summer season.

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