Jury duty is a time-honored civic tradition for many Americans, but it’s also a major point of complaint. In particular, small business owners have reason to dislike jury duty. As a small business owner, your absence from your company for several days or more could disrupt your workflow, lose customers, delay projects and even force your business to shut down completely while the trial is in progress.
If you’ve recently received a summons, you might be wondering what your options are to avoid jury duty. It’s important to note that the laws surrounding jury duty vary depending on your location, so you should always research your options in your own state and city. However, here are some general tips to follow if you need to get out of jury duty as a small business owner.
Proving Major Financial Hardship
When you first receive a jury duty summons, read the fine print carefully. Each jurisdiction has different rules about your eligibility for an exemption from jury duty, and the letter that you receive should outline the process for appealing your selection.
The jury duty laws in most locations include a clause allowing people to remove themselves from the jury pool if serving as a juror would cause major financial hardship. In the state of New York, for example, potential jurors can petition to be excused from jury duty for a period of two years if it would cause them “undue hardship or extreme inconvenience.”
Many people feel that they suffer hardship or inconvenience by serving jury duty, so you’ll need to show that you’re a special case. In order to prove that you would suffer financial hardship by being on a jury, gather as much supporting documentation as you can. If you’re a one- or two-person shop, for example, you could raise that as a potential issue. Or if you have business loans that have strict repayment schedules and you just can’t take a few weeks off work, that’s also good for a judge to know. The impact of missing payments because of jury duty could wreck your business credit scores, costing you thousands down the road in increased finance costs or lost business opportunities. (You can see where your business credit stands for free on Nav.com.)
When making your case, you’ll need to argue that your income will be seriously harmed by having to be away from your business for an extended period of time. For example, if you run a donut shop and you’re the only one who knows the secret recipe, serving as a juror means that you’ll have to close the shop during the trial, which will have a major impact on your revenue and cash flow.
Whatever happens, the worst thing that you can do is ignore the summons. Depending on your location, you might face fines or even jail time if you don’t show up on the appointed date.
Can’t Avoid Jury Duty? What Small Business Owners Can Do
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to get out of jury duty. By planning ahead, however, you can make the impact on your small business as minimal as possible.
First, although you may not be able to avoid jury duty entirely, you’re often able to postpone your service to a date that’s more convenient for you in several months. If this is true in your location, see if you can obtain a postponement so that you can plan for your future unavailability. This would work especially well if your business has low and high seasons.
Remember that many more people are summoned than are actually required to serve on a jury, so receiving a summons isn’t the end of the world. If you are placed on a jury, inform your employees and clients as soon as you can, so that you can try to work around the days that you’ll be unavailable. If it’s possible and it suits your business, bring a laptop, tablet or book with you and try to get some work done while the court is in recess.
This article was originally written on April 6, 2017 and updated on February 1, 2021.