Can an exempt employee be required to take unpaid leave for jury duty?
November 15, 2012 6:03 AM   Subscribe

Got called in for jury duty. As an FLSA-exempt employee, can an employer require me to take unpaid leave?

I got called in for jury duty. I am a salaried, exempt employee in IA. My employer is not trying to prevent me from taking the time off for jury duty, but they are saying that I would have to take unpaid leave during that time (or else use PTO, which I am out of for the remainder of the year). I am pretty sure this is in violation of the FLSA's provisions for exempt employees.

The law seems pretty clear on this, though my employer didn't seem to read it that way when I mentioned it, but as with most questions of interpretation I am sure there are a number of legally-creative ways to get around this - such as mandating that I work additional hours later to make up my missed time, which I believe they can do (although whether they should is maybe a different question).

So, I guess I'm wondering where the line is drawn, whether this is something worth pressing for, and also in what ways an employer could effectively get around the requirements in the law referenced above. They were nice enough about addressing my concerns and I'll just suck up and deal with it unless my rights are pretty clearly being violated.

TINLA, YANML, etc. Just looking for some affirmation or anecdotal experience right now.
posted by relucent to Work & Money (9 answers total)
Well, you're asking for legal advice here, which no competent attorney will give you because this is not a forum for legal advice.

I would ask this question of an employment lawyer in Iowa. Some attorneys offer free initial consultations.
posted by dfriedman at 6:32 AM on November 15, 2012

You don't need affirmation or anecdata; you need legal advice.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:35 AM on November 15, 2012

This is a request for legal advice, but it's got two components. The first is whether the law requires employers to pay their employees for time spent serving as a juror. This is easily determinable from public websites.

According to the US DOL website:
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment for time not worked, including jury duty. This type of benefit is generally a matter of agreement between an employer and an employee (or the employee's representative). While federal law does not, some state laws require employers to pay employees who are asked to serve jury duty.
According to the Iowa Workforce Development website, Iowa law does not do this.

So as far as the FLSA and state law goes, you're probably out of luck.

The question then becomes whether your specific arrangement with your specific employer requires them to pay you. Employers can choose to offer this as a benefit, and depending on how that's set up you may be able to demand it if HR is giving you the runaround. But that's a question you're going to need to raise with a labor attorney, as it will involve an analysis of the specific facts of your arrangement. Consult a competent attorney licensed in your jurisdiction that does this type of law.
posted by valkyryn at 7:11 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

The FLSA's regulations, under the section relating to the "salary basis" test (which is one of the requirements for exempt status) say:
Deductions may not be made for absences of an employee caused by jury duty, attendance by a witness, or temporary military leave. The employer may, however, offset any amounts received by an employee as jury or witness fees or military pay for a particular week against the salary due for that particular week without loss of the exemption.
29 CFR 541.602(b)(3). Note, however, that if an employee is absent for an entire workweek because of jury duty, the employer could decline to pay the employee's salary, since the salary basis test does not require payment for any work week in which an employee performs no work.

Also note that the employer could legally refuse to pay any employee for time taken off for jury duty -- the above does not require the employer to pay for time not worked. However, if they do dock an otherwise exempt employee's pay, the risk to the employer is that the employee is no longer paid on a salary basis, and the employer therefore loses the exemption, and the employee is entitled to overtime pay from that point forward.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:24 AM on November 15, 2012

@valkyryn: That one is specifically with regards to non-exempt employees. From what I can tell, basically nothing in the FLSA applies to exempt employees except for the part that says that exempt employees must be paid the full salary amount regardless of number of hours worked.

@pardonyou: We are definitely classified as exempt employees, and I don't think they are prepared to casually discard this classification as it would be a huge change in a lot of ways.

I expect that there are some allowances within the laws of exemption for a salaried employee taking unpaid personal time, since it's by mutual agreement, but when I am forced to take leave as part of a civic duty and the consequence is that my salary is reduced, that seems contrary to the FLSA. If we aren't paid overtime, we also can't be "paid undertime" (in other words, paycheck deductions for time not worked) unless it's in full-week increments.
posted by relucent at 8:12 AM on November 15, 2012

Is there some reason you can't call your state's Department of Employment? Or try Elaws, which specifically says "An employer cannot make deductions for absences of an exempt employee due to jury duty..."
posted by DarlingBri at 8:26 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

The first thing I would check would be to see if there is an Employee Handbook or Operating procedure that covers leave - my employer has an guiding Operating Procedure which states that all employees (exempt or non-exempt) are paid for jury duty, with the understanding that exempt employees must still complete their work assignments. It's possible that your supervisor doesn't know their own policies.
posted by muddgirl at 8:41 AM on November 15, 2012

@pardonyou: We are definitely classified as exempt employees, and I don't think they are prepared to casually discard this classification as it would be a huge change in a lot of ways.

Here is the tl;dr version of my response: An employer does not have to pay any employee for time off to attend jury duty. However, if the employer deducts such time from an exempt employee's salary, that employee is no longer exempt because the employer has violated the "salary basis" test.

What a particular employer will or won't do given those facts is beyond the ability of anyone here to answer, although I would certainly expect that the vast majority of employers would be unwilling to jeopardize the exempt status of their employees over a few days of jury pay.

If it helps your weighing of my response, I've been an employment lawyer for 17 years.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:10 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

@pardonyou: Yep - my apologies if my response came across as anything but agreeing with you! I meant to communicate that what you said is consistent with my own research into the matter. I very much appreciate the input.
posted by relucent at 10:14 AM on November 15, 2012

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