Q: It’s your busy season. You've notified your employee that he must work his regular hours next week despite the fact that he received a jury duty summons.  He fails to show up for work and instead attends jury duty.  You fire him for insubordination. Does your employee have grounds for a wrongful termination claim? 

A: The answer isn't as clear cut as you might think.  It largely depends on whether you are a NJ or NY employer.  NJ statutory law provides that it is a disorderly persons offense for a NJ employer to penalize, threaten or coerce an employee with respect to his employment because the employee is required to attend court for jury service and permits the employee to sue for money damages suffered and for an order requiring reinstatement.  If the employee prevails, the employee may also be entitled to reimbursement of reasonable attorney's fees.  By contrast, NY has no statute giving a NY employee the right to sue his employer for the same offense.  But, if the NY Court learns that its juror has been fired by the employer, the Court can hold the employer in criminal contempt, which carries a fine and possible jail time.  Given the differences between these laws, NJ employers should be sure their handbooks make clear that employees will not be retaliated against for attending court for jury service, while NY employers may wish to omit from their handbooks any similar statements that might give rise to employee rights not otherwise provided for by law.

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