You’ve Been Summoned

Today is a soapbox day. You’ve been warned.

One of my coworkers received a jury duty notification recently. Everyone has offered their suggestions on what to say to get out of serving.

I won’t join that discussion because the idea of shirking jury duty infuriates me.

Yes, I know America’s judicial system is flawed. Yes, I know that poor people and minorities are often treated unfairly. Yes, I know that wealthy and white defendants get off on lesser charges.

Even though the system is flawed, I don’t believe that’s a reasonable excuse for avoiding jury duty. Frankly, I think it means that MORE people actually need to serve on juries. That way, they’re better informed about what’s broken and can use that knowledge to demand change. (Assuming we can ever get them to vote, but that’s a topic for another day.)

In my opinion, only a very small group of people ever has a good excuse to be dismissed from jury duty. I would be willing to excuse someone who is taking care of a spouse, parent, or child who has severe health issues. I also think that people working in trauma centers or as first responders should get a pass. Asking them to take an extended leave from their daily lives actually is a hardship.

But I would not grant any leeway for the average desk jockey, barista, customer service worker, or widget maker. Will an employer be inconvenienced if these folks aren’t at work? Maybe. Will their coworkers have to do more work to pick up the slack? Sure. Does either of those things justify our avoidance of one of the few duties our Constitution places on the average citizen? Hell fucking no.

Let’s be honest, most of us work jobs that aren’t really that important. Will our coworkers bitch and moan if we’re out of the office for a few weeks on jury duty? Sure, but that’s because the average American worker is a spoiled, lazy, selfish person. And I’m lumping myself into that category.

We bitch and complain when our coworkers call in sick. But if they don’t stay home when they’re ill, we bellyache because they’re spreading germs around our workspace.

If someone saves up and plans a nice vacation, we only think about how their absence means we will have to cover their workload. Instead of celebrating their accomplishment, we’re envious and petty.

Hell, we complain when we hear about someone earning a higher salary or having better benefits. We usually say they don’t deserve it because they don’t work hard enough to justify it.

What we should really be asking is, “Why can’t I have a better salary too? Why is my employer too cheap to provide those good benefits? Why am I still working for a crappy company like this one?”

As for employers, the vast majority think of their employees as cogs in a machine. If a worker develops a serious illness or is severely injured, employers don’t really care. They could replace that cog with another in a New York minute. And they’d be glad to do so if it meant they could pay the new cog less money or offer fewer benefits.

I honestly think a lot of people realize that, and that’s why they’re afraid to serve on a jury. Somewhere buried deep in their unconscious is the fear that if their employer realizes they’re replaceable, then they will be replaced.

Over the years, I’ve heard about employers threatening to fire people for serving on juries. In some states, employers don’t have to pay their employees if they’re on a jury, but the state’s jury pay is much lower than their typical wages. Frankly, all kinds of shenanigans are common every time a jury summons hits someone’s mailbox.

If I had my way, any employer who tries to keep their workers from serving on juries would be heavily fined. In most states, employers threatening or attempting to terminate employees for serving on a jury face fines. But I’d like those fines to be big enough to stop employers from scaring their staffers.

And I’d really like it if we all were a little less self-absorbed and myopic. Yes, serving on a jury or having a coworker serve can be an inconvenience. But let’s remember that jury duty is about more than our own lives.

It’s about the greater good. It’s about the laws that knit a society together. And whether the case is civil or criminal, it’s about other people who have been harmed or could be harmed.

(Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash)

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