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 to 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 a spokesperson 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 the self-employed.”

Impact on business

According 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.

Managing absence

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.

Managing absence of all kinds can be an onerous task for a small company. Developing a policy to cover all eventualities can be useful – 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.