Currently, compensation amounts to little more than expenses for the individual; hardly comparable to the day rate for a vital member of staff. Members of the Federation of Small Businesses participate in its own compensation scheme and there are a few niche insurance packages but none of these can quantify the intellectual or practical cost of prolonged absence.
"My day rate is between £800 and £1,000," says David Hart, co-founder of marketing and communications agency BitemarkMC. "I need to charge myself out at a reasonable rate to be able to pay staff, rates and so on. Simply removing a fee earner from a company like ours would be disastrous if we weren't properly compensated."
Ray Pearson, who runs his own small PR consultancy Rapier, used this argument when he was called up in the mid 1990s. He informed the court he was willing to attend provided they paid his charge out rate of £350 per day and compensated him for any loss of business which might result.
He had other demands, too. "Should my absence result in my business going into liquidation, they would cover my immediate and ongoing costs and protect me against the three year rule, ensuring that my name would not be on any list which might in future preclude me from starting a business, applying for a loan or opening a bank account. If any client became threatening or difficult, I would be excused from the trial; and if they couldn't do that, they would cover the cost and give me time to brief another consultant to run the business in my absence."
Faced with such comprehensive chutzpah, Pearson was soon excused. But this is precisely the kind of resistance the government wants to break down. Clarification of the employer's legal position might help. Curiously, there is no specific legislation requiring a company to release its staff for jury service. Instead, a business refusing to release an employee - or indeed an employee who refuses to attend for jury service - might be found in contempt of court. Everything is open to interpretation.
But the call up shouldn't necessarily be seen as something negative. In terms of personal development, good citizenship, fulfilment and morale, releasing someone to perform an external duty should have a positive effect on the business when they return. It certainly can't harm the company's image. Refusing them leave, on the other hand, could just arouse resentment.
But managing absence of all kinds is an onerous task for any small company. With help from a specialist, you can develop a policy to cover all eventualities: outlining responsibilities, clarifying that the company is willing to release staff for jury service, stipulating the proportion of compensation the company will pay for any loss of earnings (unless it is taken as holiday, jury service constitutes unpaid leave), and the expectation that the employee will keep the director fully informed if the case exceeds the expected length of absence.
Do this while your company is still young and you won't be caught napping when the summons inevitably arrives.