Call of duty

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

People have busy lives, especially during December. But sakes' alive, if you want to see a group of whiners, show up at jury duty.

Having a right to trial by jury is one of America's Constitutional rights, one that has withstood the test of time. I was excited to receive my first summons and arrive on Monday. Yet I had heard so many horror stories, I wondered if my enthusiasm was misplaced.

While there are challenges to park and get through security, here is what I experienced: Everyone was polite and thanked me for being there. There was an hour and a half for lunch. The waiting area is a reasonably quiet place where you can read or watch television, or work via a smartphone or laptop (they're working on installing Wi-Fi). I saw people knitting, napping, reading. Those of us who were not taken for jury selection in court were released two hours early.

Hourly workers, contractors, independent business owners, or stay-at-home parents do suffer financially by being at court, given that the check for $25 basically covers mileage and lunch.

But from the way some people were talking, you would have thought showing up at jury duty was akin to being sentenced to a Siberian prison. While everyone's community is different, I was called to the criminal court of Cook County, which is, let's say, not set in the most exclusive part of Chicago. It's a place where smokers loiter outside and the entrance has large signs saying “DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CHILD UNATTENDED WE ARE WATCHING.”

So my feeling is that if this place provides a pleasant experience, those in ritzier suburbs are probably really fine. Like many jurisdictions, Cook County has a “one day or one trial” policy, and even those placed on a jury often wrap up in three days or less. People often have an exaggerated sense of how long a trial will last, according to the New York Times.

This leads us to the question of how long-term care and nursing homes do their corporate, nay, moral obligation in jury duty policy. While it's not mandated by law, luckily up to 87% of U.S. employers offer paid leave for jury duty, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. McKnight's parent company, Haymarket Media, has a jury duty policy that allowed me to take paid, excused leave up to two weeks. If a version of this is not true of your company, it's worth having a conversation with human resources and the C-suite as to why.

As administrators, make it clear to all staff that it is unacceptable to apply pressure to a worker to “get out” of jury duty. In a 1999 case where an employer threatened and then fired his subordinate, the consequences were severe — the judge had him arrested.

If you're going to be a bully and overall terrible person, best not to do it in a way that will land you in front of a judge — or jury. And when you support employees taking part in jury duty, pat yourself on the back for being a good citizen.

Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight's Long-Term Care News. Follow her @TigerELN.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.