Employers are wrestling with the cost of jury service

Written by
Changeboard Team

24 Sep 2015

24 Sep 2015 • by Changeboard Team

Do you pay your employers while on jury service?

Eight hundred years after Magna Carta sought to enshrine a citizen’s right to the lawful judgment of his peers, the UK’s judicial system puts very real pressures on both employers and their employees. While the latter is often aware of their legal position, the former is all too often caught unaware.

Under the UK’s system, people qualify to serve on a jury if they are between the ages of 18 and 75 on the day the service is due to start. Employers are required by law to allow employees time off work to complete their jury service. 

Once called upon an employee does have the option of applying for a deferral, though this can only be done so once. However the window for such an application is only seven days from receiving the summons and this can only be requested by the employee. Employers have no right to ask for it to be deferred or for the employee to be excused. 

It is estimated that each year around 178,000 individuals are called upon to do jury service in England and Wales, and while both employers and employees are legally bound to take part in the judicial system, it comes as a surprise to many that payment for jury service is not compulsory. The reason for this is that as jury service is a public duty, it should therefore remain the responsibility of each individual who is called to do jury service to perform that duty.  

Making up the difference

The government does not expect employers to help fund that duty and so they are not required to continue to pay an employee’s wages while away on jury duty. Having said that, many employers agree to make up the difference between the Government allowance and normal pay, or do so for a limited period.

The government does however offer allowances for employees who are at risk of financial losses as a result of being summoned to take part in jury service. 

Government allowances for jury service are paid at different rates, depending on how long someone has to stay at Court each day and for how many days they are on jury service.  Depending on the maths, this means that the rate of payment can, in fact, be higher than the national minimum wage and national living wage. This makes the payment of allowances much easier to administer.

Will legislation change in the future?

While the system does seek to compensate employees, many employers would question why they would have to pay for one of their employees to go on jury service. While jury service typically is for a period of a couple of weeks, it is possible to be selected on a jury trial scheduled for significantly longer. Larger businesses may be suitably placed to absorb the loss; small businesses could be hit particularly hard, especially if it meant that a key member of staff was unavailable. This would be exacerbated if there was a need to hire a temporary replacement, often on wages higher than the absent employee.

Both the present Government and the previous coalition Government made it clear that they are opposed to red tape in employment law. The election of a Conservative Government means that it is unlikely that there will be a change of the law in this area to require employers to pay staff while they are on jury service.  

Employers need to make themselves and their staff aware of their obligations and ensure that they are suitably protected. We are seeing an increase in the number of employees that take out insurance to cover their salary if they have to do jury service, but many remain unaware that a financial shock could lie just around the corner.