Is jury duty mandatory in Ontario?
Currently, Ontario allows a jury of six people to assess damages and decide issues of fact in civil cases, except in certain situations where it’s prohibited by statute. It is the civic duty of all Canadian citizens 18 years of age and older to serve as a juror if selected. However, Ontario employees do not have to be paid for the time they spend on the jury. This makes it difficult for potential jurors to balance work and civic duty.
At this time, the province is considering scrapping jury trials for civil cases in an effort to tackle a backlog exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but no decision has yet been made. Juries have been used in Ontario in civil cases since 1792 and given their long history, employees need to know their rights if they are summoned to serve on a jury.
Can I get out of jury duty?
No one can refuse to participate in jury duty unless they have a valid reason. Juries are selected based on local court needs. If you are over 18 and a Canadian citizen, you may be a potential juror. This means you may be summoned to a jury panel from which the final jury will be selected. Once chosen as a juror, an employee has to take time off from work to serve on the jury at a trial. An individual may not be able to serve as a juror if they are sick, have booked travel, have other hardships, are in the middle of a move, employment reasons or work in certain professions such as being a lawyer, police officer or firefighter.
If, for example, an employee cannot serve on the jury for employment-related reasons, they may request a deferral of their jury service. A deferral or excusal can be made when an individual receives a summons to participate in the jury selection process or when they go to jury duty. Only a judge can grant a deferral or refusal and as a potential juror or juror, these individuals have to show relevant documents in support of their request. Ultimately, the judge may grant a request or require you to go to jury duty.
Once I am on the jury what happens?
Once an individual is selected to be a jury member, a judge will provide instructions on what to do next. Pre COVID-19, most trials began on the same day that the jury was selected, and jurors would be told the estimated length of the trial. The trial would likely run most of the day, typically until 4:30 pm. We recommend employees maintain open communication with their employers and advise them on how long they will be away from work.
Do you get paid for jury duty?
Although some employers may pay employees for time off for jury, employers are not required to pay your full salary. From an employment law perspective, the fact that employees may not be paid for jury duty raises issues for both low and high-income employees.
Employees absent from work for mandatory jury duty and not is compensated for that time off will generally suffer. Jurors are given $40 a day, only after serving without pay for the first 10 days on a jury. Thereafter, jurors receive a daily amount of $100 from the 50th day forward. Employees without emergency savings or with high expenses have a very hard time taking the required time off for jury duty.
Hopefully, recent comments from Ontario judges on this issue may prompt larger employers to have time off policies that opt into paying employees for jury duty. It is useful for employees to confirm whether their employers have a policy for paid time off for jury duty, before signing an employment agreement. Without legislative change mandating paid jury duty, employees have to be aware that fulfilling such civic obligations may require taking a financial hit.
Employee rights while on jury duty
While the employee is on leave or while serving on jury duty, the employment is deemed continuous for the purposes of calculating annual vacation entitlement and additional pension, medical or other benefits to which the employee is entitled. Employees are entitled to all increases in wages and benefits that they would have been entitled to have the leave not been taken or the attendance as a juror not been required.
As soon as the leave ends, the employer must place the employee in the position the employee was in before taking the leave or jury duty or in a comparable position. It is important for employees to know that generally they would be owed severance pay if they were terminated while on jury duty.
If you are in a situation where you do not know how to balance jury duty with your employment or you want to make sure your employment is protected, give us a call for a free 30 minutes consultation.
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