Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.
From time to time Help Wanted focuses on a single topic. Today's subject is payment for jury duty.
DEAR CARRIE: I recently finished one day of jury duty. I sat in the jury pool but did not get selected for a case. I have a stamped juror certificate confirming that I served as a juror for one day. As a result, I thought my company would pay me. In our handbook, under the section entitled "Jury Duty Service Pay," the following exact words are written: "If you are a full-time employee, you will be paid regular wages for the first five days of jury duty." Since I am full-time, I thought I would be paid. I was so sure of it that I checked "yes" to that question on the jury questionnaire. Now the company's co-owner, who is in charge of payroll and who wrote the employment manual, refuses to pay me. He feels that unless I serve on a jury, the time doesn't count as jury duty. Is this legal? Does he have the right to interpret the company rules any way he wants? -- The Whole Truth?
DEAR WHOLE: Jury duty includes sitting in the jury pool. New York State is clear about that.
"A person who appears for service ready to serve . . . is eligible to receive the jury fee, whether or not they are selected to sit as a trial juror," said Anthony Manisero, New York State jury manager.
That daily state fee is $40, which employers with more than 10 employees are required to pay for the first three days, if the company doesn't pay the employee wages exceeding that amount. After that the state pays. (The state pays the fee from the beginning at smaller companies if they don't pay employees for jury duty.)
As for wages, you have a strong case for challenging a handbook policy that promises you will receive your regular pay for a few days.
Aside from that, if you are an hourly employee, federal law says you don't have to be paid any of your regular wages if you don't work. If you are exempt, meaning that you fall into the professional, administrative, executive or outside-sales categories, then your company can legally forgo paying you, but only if you miss a full week of work. If you miss just a few days because of jury duty or do any work at all, then your employer would have to pay your salary for the week.
DEAR CARRIE: What is a company's responsibility for paying an employee on jury duty? I work for a third-party administrator handling insurance claims. I am a salaried employee. I was called for jury duty and seated for a criminal trial that was expected to last four weeks. The company said it would pay me for the first five days and after that I would have to take my vacation time or not get paid at all. As I had vacation already planned, I opted not to get paid.
I was lucky. There was a plea bargain after two weeks, so I only lost one week of pay. But I did work at night and also before I went to court to keep up on my files and email. Would I still be entitled to get paid for that work, even though it was not during official hours? Also was the company permitted to tell me to use my vacation days? -- Vacation Verdict?
DEAR VACATION: Your company cannot legally force you to use vacation days during jury service.
"An employer may not require an employee to take vacation pay during jury service," Manisero said.
As to your question about working after hours on the days you had jury duty, the company should have paid you for that time.
"If an employee works on their own time [evenings/nights] during jury service, the employer must pay the employee for time worked," he said. And, as in the first question, if you are exempt, you may have to be paid for the full week.
For a copy of the handbook on jury service in New York State go to http://bit.ly/15zSoEW or call 800-695-8767.