Whilst you will be used to staff taking time off work for annual leave and sickness, it is likely that you will be less familiar handling requests for time off to attend jury service. Although the thought of being without a key member of staff for a prolonged period may be concerning, there is very little that can be done to prevent this.
You cannot refuse to allow an employee time off work if they have been summoned for jury service, as a juror is required to attend by the Juries Act 1974. Refusing to allow the employee the required amount of time off work would place you in contempt of court, however it is appropriate to request proof that they have been selected.
Having said this, an employee may ask the court to be excused, or to have their participation deferred, if their absence is likely to cause substantial damage to the business. Whilst you may hold a conversation with the employee to express these business concerns, you should not place any undue pressure on them and cannot apply for excusal of deferral on their behalf. Remember that the employee is not obliged to act in accordance with your concerns, however if they do then you may write a letter in support of their application.
Despite any frustration on your part, is vital that you do not subject an employee to any form of detriment for attending jury service. Whilst you may be inclined to deduct the time away from their annual leave allocation, this is unlikely to sit well with employees and may qualify as unlawful. Choosing to dismiss an employee for attending, or planning to attend, jury service will be automatically unfair. This means they will be able to bring a claim against you to an employment tribunal without the need for two years’ service.
Perhaps one benefit is that there is no statutory entitlement for employees to be paid their normal wages when absent due to jury service. As employees are able to claim an allowance for loss of earnings from the court you are able to decide how much to pay them, or whether to pay them at all. When making your decision, it may be worth knowing that there is no structure in place for you to claim financial compensation from the court for loss or earnings or inconvenience on your part.
Ultimately, whilst jury service can be seen as an inconvenience you should keep in mind that most proceedings usually last up to two weeks and are often cut short if an early decision can be reached. Whilst this is understandably more likely to impact smaller businesses with fewer resources, consider how taking a negative approach to the situation is unlikely to be good for employee relations. Instead, energies will be better spent on planning for this absence by sharing out work duties and arranging cover where necessary.