In theory, of course, a jury summons gives ample warning and therefore time to put contingency plans into effect. That assumes that you have contingency plans, that your employee informs you of the summons in good time and you are pleased to release them fulfil their social commitment. In practice, few young companies have given the impact of enforced absence much thought before it actually arises.Many people feel that as far as jury service is concerned, they shouldn't have to. Small businesses are subject to different pressures than large corporate entities. "We do support leave of absence for statutory duties, Territorial Army reservists and so on," says Stephen Alambritis, head of press and parliamentary affairs for the Federation of Small Businesses. "But we're not so keen on enforcement for jury service. If you run a single person service company, being taken away for two or three weeks can result in significant loss of income. We do feel there is a case for exemption for small businesses and we have talked to the Government about exempting the self-employed. Unfortunately at the moment the Home Office seems determined to go in the opposite direction."
Impact on businessAccording to Richard Berends, founder of network services company LANkind, in a larger company, more specific roles and formal methods for taking leave make it easier to compensate for absence. "In a smaller company, people take on many more roles than their job title would suggest," he says. "In an entrepreneurial company, everybody does everything so if someone is away for a longer time, vacuums start to appear because you aren't aware of exactly who is doing what."
For example, somebody's job description might suggest that they fulfil a purely administrative or technical role. Then they are called away for a fortnight and their absence coincides with a dip in productivity or orders. It turns out that their close relationship with your customers actually includes an unofficial sales function. And this multi-role type job is unique to smaller enterprises.
David Hart, co-founder of marketing and communications agency BitemarkMC, has been called up twice. The first time, he was Director of Communications at a PLC which was on the brink of a major restructure and the subject of a great deal of press speculation. He successfully asked for a postponement. When his number came up again, he had left to start his new company and when he requested a further extension, the clerk of the court simply wrote back saying his service was no longer required.
"I do believe people should accept that jury service is something they need to do if required and a postponement should mean just that; not an indefinite stay of execution," says Hart. "But I also think that the totally inflexible stance that seems to be being proposed clearly comes from someone who has no experience of starting and running a young business. It is easy if you are a well-paid lawyer to get high and mighty about the fact that everyone should do jury service no matter what. But any system that did that to you and ended up costing your business must be prepared to compensate you fully for that."