Tie juror pay to minimum wage (Editor’s notes)

Penalties clearly aren't working for no-shows
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/26/2011

Courts are losing patience with people who either refuse, forget or are just too lazy to show up for jury duty. As outlined in one of this issue’s cover stories (“Courts losing patience with jury no-shows,” ), one judge calculated between 11 per cent and 21 per cent of prospective jurors in 42 different trials in Brampton, Ont., never bothered to show up. Other estimates have put the no-show rate as high as 50 per cent.

This is fascinating because jury duty isn’t exactly optional. Not responding to a notice can result in fines and jail time, of varying amounts, depending on the jurisdiction. In Alberta, for example, the penalty for playing hooky includes a fine of up to $1,000, up to one month in jail or both. There are also penalties for employers that refuse to allow time off for jury duty.

But, clearly, the stick isn’t working. So perhaps it’s time to try the carrot, which comes in two forms: Appealing to one’s sense of civic duty or paying jurors for their time. The former isn’t working (we can toss “civic duty” into the pile of things that ain’t what they used to be) and the latter is a pretty wilted, mouldy looking carrot.

In British Columbia, jurists earn $20 a day for the first 10 days, $60 for days 11 to 49 and $100 for 50 or more days. Assuming a juror puts in an eight-hour workday, that means she is working for the first 49 days for either $2.50 an hour or $7.50 an hour. Not until she hits day 50 of the trial would she earn $12.50 an hour, finally cracking the province’s minimum wage of $8 an hour ($8.75 as of May 1, 2011).

Across the country, the financial scenario for jurists is just as grim. Nova Scotia pays $40 per day (or $5 per hour) and Alberta hands out $50 (or $6.25). Given so many people are living paycheque to paycheque — 59 per cent of people would be in trouble if their pay was delayed by one week, according to a 2010 survey by the Canadian Payroll Association — it’s no wonder people are a little hesitant to answer the call. They simply can’t afford it.

So what’s the solution? In unionized workplaces, collective agreements often stipulate employers will top up payments. For example, an agreement between Caesar’s Windsor (a casino in Windsor, Ont.) and the Canadian Auto Workers stipulates a worker called for jury duty or to testify as a Crown witness will be paid “the difference between his/her regular hourly rate and the amount he or she receives as jury duty or witness fees for each day lost.”

Many non-unionized employers also top up pay, but not all of them, which means some employers (and workers) are paying more than their fare share.

To ease the burden on jurists and employers alike, every province should move to tie jury pay with the minimum wage. And employers should consider top-ups a best practice worth emulating. It’s their civic duty, after all.

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