Supporting Employees in the Military
A statistic that has long stood out in my mind is that the average age of a combat infantryman in Vietnam was 19. In WW II and Korea the average age was closer to 26. President Johnson knew that drafting 18 year-olds would have the least impact on society, as their absence would have little economic impact on their families, and that they were largely single, so their absence only affected their immediate family, and not in-laws.
In the early 70s, as the Vietnam War was winding down, the military establishment reorganized the roll of the Reserves, and transferred many of the combat support capabilities to the Reserve and National Guard. This has had two advantages: One, it has afforded savings in that we do not have to pay full-time military salaries for capabilities we do not need when we are at peace. Secondly, it has helped ensure that the armed forces would never again be sent to war without mobilizing the Reserves, which meant that Congress and the President needed to have widespread public support for the war.
At the same time, Congress eliminated the draft, which meant that no one would be forced to serve in the military against their will. However, that left the issue of how civilian employers would treat employees who continued to serve in the Reserves or National Guard. There was a fear that employers would not support an employee who was choosing to serve in a voluntary military system.
In order to prevent discrimination or retaliation against employees who chose to serve in the Reserves or national Guard, Congress passed the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) in October 1994.
USERRA seeks to ensure that members of the uniformed services are entitled to return to their civilian employment upon completion of their military service. They should be reinstated with the seniority, status and rate of pay they would have obtained had they remained continuously employed by their civilian employer. The law also protects individuals from discrimination in hiring, promotion and retention on the basis of present and future membership in the armed forces.
I am sharing this with you because many of you probably have employees who also serve in the Reserves or National Guard, and if you do, the chance that they may be recalled to active duty is growing all the time. Reservists and Guard members have been serving on active duty continuously since Desert Shield in 1990. They have been called up to serve in Somalia, Albania, Kosovo, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Iraq again, and of course, here at home.
In 1972, in an effort to improve cooperation and understanding between Reservists and their employers, the Department of Defense created the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). ESGR is a tremendous resource for employers who want to know what their legal obligations are with respect to employees who are reservists, and what the employee’s responsibilities are to the employer. They have a booklet called the Employer Resource Guide, which is a tremendous reference.
Besides giving an overview of USERRA, it also provides some important tips for employers who want to help their employees who are members of the National Guard or Reserve.
In order to help them help us all here are some suggestions from ESGR:
- Learn more about the role of the National Guard and Reserve. Ask your employees what they do and how they fit into the “big picture” of national defense.
- Get to know your employees’ military commanders and supervisors. Ask them to provide you with advance notice of your employees’ annual duty and weekend training so that you can work out any conflicts.
- Put your support in writing by signing a “Statement of Support” for the National Guard and Reserve. Your local ESGR Committee will be happy to provide you with a certificate that can be displayed for your employees and visitors to see.
- Look at your personnel policies to see how they accommodate and support participation in the National Guard or Reserve. Your local ESGR Committee would be happy to provide you with information on what other businesses are doing to accommodate Guard and Reserve members in their workplace.
- Get your entire management team to promote your support of the National Guard and Reserve. Explain your position and address problems or concerns as they may arise.
- Encourage employee participation in the National Guard and Reserve. Employees with a military background are professional, responsible, and dedicated. They have can-do attitudes, are used to challenges, and are comfortable exercising leadership at all levels.
- Call the ESGR Headquarters at (800) 336-4590 if you need assistance in resolving a conflict or have a questions about your responsibilities.
- Don’t hesitate to call your employee’s military commander or supervisor if you have a conflict. They face many of the same challenges you do in your business, and they know that it is in everyone’s best interest to work together. Often they can offer alternatives that will work to everyone’s satisfaction.
I encourage all of you to learn more about ESGR and how they can be of assistance to you. I also encourage you to review your employee policies and to adopt policies that help make it easy for your employees to serve our country. ESGR can be contacted by phone at (800) 336-4590 or at www.esgr.com.