It’s not every day that we run headlong into the Bill of Rights when we’re just going about the normal duties of running a business. But for many small business owners, that’s exactly what happens when they receive the dreaded jury duty summons in the mail. And that's exactly what I had to face earlier this month.
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The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution gives us the right to trial by an impartial jury. By the way, the phrase “jury of your peers” is not in the Constitution. In any case, with jury trials guaranteed, there’s a big demand for jurors.
Small business owners always feel responsible for keeping things running smoothly and in many cases their presence is critical. Sometimes employees can’t do their jobs unless the boss is around.
That fact is we all occasionally get sick and hopefully take a few vacation days now and then. If there’s one practical lesson that jury duty teaches small business owners, it’s that they need to be proactive in delegating and preparing for the day they will not be around.
Know your local rules
Every jurisdiction has different rules regarding jury duty and who can be exempted. In the case of a small business owner, your local “financial hardship” exemption may get you off the hook. However, often these exemptions are limited. When you ask for one, the court may dismiss you for one call-up, but reschedule you or put your name back in the pool for a later date, when you will not be allowed to use the exemption. In my case, I was originally scheduled for January, but I already had flights and appearances booked. The jury supervisor allowed me to postpone my service to a more convenient date. (As if there is ever a convenient time.)
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If you plan to ask for an exemption, first carefully read the jury duty summons that you received. It will explain how exemptions are granted and you might be able to take care of it online. Follow the procedure that is outlined. Just failing to show up is the worst thing you could do.
Of course, many more are called than are required to serve. You may show up in the morning, be told that the lawyers are going to be busy finagling for a few days, be dismissed and sent home.
Don’t waste the idle time
Since much jury duty time is of the “hurry up and wait” variety, many small business owners will find that they can get some work done while they are waiting. If allowed, bring your laptop or tablet and work from the waiting room. With all the time you’re likely to have, plow through some of the business reading that you haven’t been able to get to. I took my laptop so I could work on my new book project. However, I got called for a jury panel the first morning which put an end to that.
Perhaps you can see much of your jury duty waiting time as a period of reflection. Consider new ideas and strategies. When your civic duty is completed, go back to work and plop down a big “to do” list on each employee’s desk—just kidding. However, when you’re back to work with fresh ideas, take time to share them and brainstorm with your team. Your new ideas might inspire creative ways of thinking on their part as well.
Preparing these tips, I explored some online forums where small business owners shared their experiences in beating jury duty. And it wasn’t all doom-and-gloom.
One forum poster wrote, “I absolutely love jury duty. It really makes me feel like an important part of the one of best things about this great country. I've served on an actual jury twice and they were both great experiences.”
Susan Solovic is an award-winning serial entrepreneur, media personality and a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today bestselling author. Her books have been translated into multiple languages.