Maryland Jury Duty Law Clarified by Federal Court
March 31, 2017
The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland recently offered some clarification as to the provisions of Maryland’s jury duty law.
Background: Maryland law requires an employer to provide employees time off for jury duty, and prohibits the employer from terminating or otherwise retaliating against an employee for this reason. A 2012 amendment to the law further provides that, “An employer may not require an individual who is summoned and appears for jury service for 4 or more hours, including traveling time, to work an employment shift that begins (1) On or before 5 p.m. on the day of the individual’s appearance for jury service; or (2) Before 3 a.m. on the day following the individual’s appearance for jury service.”
In Martin v. Douglas Development Corp., the employer provided paid jury duty leave, but required employees to return to work if dismissed from jury duty before the end of their normally scheduled shift. In this case, the employee did not appear for his 5:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. shift, but reported for jury duty at 8:00 a.m.. After being dismissed from jury duty at 12:00 p.m., he went home. He claimed 8 hours of paid jury duty time on his timesheet. He was subsequently terminated for failing to return to work after jury duty for the remainder of his shift. He then sued the employer for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, contending that he was terminated for his jury duty.
The Court’s Ruling: The Court acknowledged that a wrongful discharge claim may be based on the statutorily protected right to perform jury duty. The Court, however, found that the employee was terminated for his failure to report to work after jury duty, as required by the employer’s policy, and not for the jury duty itself.
The Court rejected the employee’s argument that, under the law, he could not be called back into work “before 3 a.m.” following his 12 p.m. dismissal. The Court noted that such a reading would make the first part of the section superfluous – that the employee could not be required to work on or before 5 p.m. on the day of appearance. Rather, the Court found that the two provisions of the section worked together to cover a 10 hour period lasting from 5 p.m. one day until 3 a.m. the next morning.
The Court acknowledged that travel to and from jury duty is encompassed by the protections of the law, and the time spent in such travel is also considered part of the jury duty. In this case, however, even with the travel time added, the employee could have returned to work before the end of the shift – even if it was only 45 minutes before.
What This Means for Employers: Employers can implement jury duty leave policies that require an employee to return to work for the remainder of his shift if dismissed early from jury duty, and the enforcement of such policies is entirely legal. Those employers with employees working an evening or night shift, however, must keep in mind the additional scheduling restrictions of the law.