Reimbursement process for employees on juries not easy for payroll practitioners as they may not be aware of how to make adjustment with reimbursement, says expert
In August, the Saskatchewan government implemented a pay raise for jurors, alongside a pledge to reimburse costs for care of dependants.
Jurors in the prairie province will now receive $110 daily for serving on both civil and criminal juries. Previously, they received $15 per day for civil trials and $80 for criminal trials.
Further financial aid for dependant care includes a maximum of $40 per day for child-care expenses and up to $80 per day for elder- or other dependant-care expenses.
“Being a juror is an important civic duty, and these changes will ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to perform this duty, regardless of their financial circumstances,” said Saskatchewan Minister of Justice and Attorney General Don Morgan.
Saskatchewan’s move is a step in the right direction, says Dirk Derstine, criminal lawyer at Derstine Penman in Toronto.
“For your average working person, [$110] is not huge, but it’s not totally ridiculous,” he says. “Would I like to see it higher? Sure. Is it a whole lot better than $2 a day to start? Yes, it is.”
Inconsistent compensation across the country
Compensation for jurors across Canada is generally low and differs widely, says Michael Armstrong, a business professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.
“There is a wide variation across the country,” he says. “Most provinces are not compensating their jurors appropriately. Most provinces do not even pay minimum wage.”
Last year, a House of Commons committee encouraged all provinces and territories to provide jurors with a daily allowance of at least $120.
In principle, underfunding jurors for completing their civic duty is medieval and unjust, says Armstrong.
Practically, it can often lead to unbalanced juries, as judges may excuse potential jurors who won’t receive reimbursement from their employer. That often includes minimum-wage workers, small business owners and senior managers integral to company success, he says.
“If their employer doesn’t give them court leave — jury pay — then the judges tend to exclude them because they know it will be a financial hardship,” says Armstrong.
“What you end up having is juries largely composed of people who have unionized and/or government, middle-class kind of jobs, because those people [typically] have [court leave] in their contract.”
Trials extending past two months often end up with juries of unemployed people or employees who receive jury pay, as three-quarters of potential jurors will ask to be excused — citing financial hardship, says Derstine.
“It’s a strangely unrepresentative jury,” he says.
“If nobody was asking for financial hardship, it would be a lot faster to pick a jury.”
Newfoundland and Labrador is the lone province that requires employers to pay workers while they serve on a jury, act as a witness in a court case or take part in a public inquiry.
According to the provincial Jury Act, Newfoundland and Labrador employers must continue to provide the same wages and benefits to staff summoned to serve in court.
“The individual is not penalized,” says Armstrong. “Instead, the employer gets penalized. It’s like an extra tax suddenly put on the employer, at random.”
Quebec’s juror compensation is also a bright light in the country, he says, with immediate compensation of $103 per day — alongside perks such as meals and parking — with an increase in pay if the trial goes long.
Payroll frustrations around adjustments
Employers are required to give employees time off to fulfil jury duty without reprisal, according to Karima Balfoul, payroll compliance adviser at the Canadian Payroll Association (CPA) in Toronto.
While some employers choose to continue to pay employees for their time in court, it is not a requirement, she says.
Employees who continue to receive regular compensation are required to submit any payments received from the courts to their employer, as double dipping is forbidden, says Balfoul.
The reimbursement process is a pain in the side of payroll practitioners, she says.
“Frustration comes into play when there’s a reimbursement,” says Balfoul, noting that many payroll professionals may not be aware of how to make the adjustment.
“It’s not something that they do on a daily basis, so they have to check or call the CPA to make sure that they’re compliant.
“Sometimes, employees, they don’t give the cheque back to the employer.”
In general, the Canada Revenue Agency instructs employers to provide a letter to employees detailing reimbursement totals, which is filed alongside personal income tax, says Balfoul.
For employees who are serving as jurors on an extended trial without reimbursement from their employer, an ROE (record of employment) may need to be issued to denote the interruption in earnings, she says.
In Quebec, the reimbursement must be made using the R-1 slip, identifying the amount via code A-3.
Advice for employers
The lack of movement on this issue is likely due to the rarity of the request and its subsequent minimal effect on the electoral process, according to Derstine.
“The more the government pays into these things, the less they have for other things; the more they have to raise taxes,” he says.
“By and large, it’s not even an electoral issue at all. I think that’s a chronic reason for underfunding in criminal law.”
And while many corporate entities do maintain wages for employees selected to serve on a jury, if more followed suit, the judicial system would be better off for it, says Derstine.
It’s not a major financial burden and employers that top up employees are considered good corporate citizens, he says.
“Trial by jury is enshrined in the charter of rights and is a very important thing for all Canadians,” says Derstine.
“It’s a little bit like an act of God. There aren’t very many people on anybody’s payroll who will be on jury duty at the same time, so it’s not going to be a gigantic financial hardship.”
But shifting the burden on to employers won’t necessarily fix the problem, according to Armstrong, who says he would prefer to see employers collectively lobby government toward a policy shift.
“It would kind of be a trade-off,” he says. “From the employees’ point of view, it would certainly be beneficial if the employer would cover it, because that would allow them to do their duty without suffering a financial loss individually. But, obviously then, that transfers the costs to the employer.”
The decision to top up salary for jury duty does help in terms of employee retention and is worthy of consideration by the human resources department, according to Balfoul.
“From an HR perspective, the policy will state whether to pay it or not and how the reimbursement will be done or required.”
Jury pay across Canada
Every jurisdiction in Canada compensates jurors differently:
Alberta: $50 per day plus reimbursement for reasonable travel and accommodation expenses.
British Columbia: $20 for the first 10 days; $60 for day 11 to 49; and $100 for day 50 and following, plus limited expense reimbursements for travel, parking and child care.
Manitoba: $30 a day after 10 days.
New Brunswick: Jurors receive $20 for a half day (less than four hours) and $40 for a full day. If the trial goes past 10 days, those payments double.
Newfoundland and Labrador: If employed, jurors continue to receive full wages and benefits.
Northwest Territories: $80 a day.
Nova Scotia: Jurors receive $40 a day, plus parking, and 20 cents per kilometre to travel to court.
Ontario: No reimbursement, aside from out-of-town travel fees, until day 11 of jury duty, when a daily stipend of $40 is enacted. At day 50, jurors receive $100 per day.
P.E.I.: $40 a day, plus travel costs payable at the government employee rate.
Quebec: $103 per day, until day 57, when it increases to $160. Jurors are also entitled to 43 cents per kilometre and limited parking and meal expenses.
Saskatchewan: $110 a day, plus limited reimbursement for travel, parking, accommodation and care for dependants.
Yukon: $80 per day, plus limited reimbursement for travel, melas and accommodation.