More than 5,000 Nevadans are members of the National Guard or Reservc, and most have full-time jobs in the private sector. Now that more than half of our active-duty military forces come from Reserve or National Guard units, reservists are dealing with problems they didn’t have in previous years. They are facing deployments that can last up to two years, and they may be sent out several times to Iraq, Afghanistan or other troubled parts of the world. They are also called upon to help with natural disasters such as floods, fires and earthquakes.
From the employer’s point of view, having an employee who is a “citizen soldier” has its pluses and minuses. While some reservists work for large companies like Wal-Mart or Home Depot, the vast majority are employed by very small firms. Losing a key employee may cause a substantial hardship to your company, and sometimes deployments are sprung on reservists rather suddenly, giving them little time to notify their employer. Even those who are not called to active duty must attend monthly drills and annual training sessions, and they may also have to take leave for specialized schools. This can create major scheduling conflicts for employers.
On the plus side, most employers find that National Guard and Reserve members are exactly the kind of conscientious, steady workers who enhance any office or job site. Combat veterans are trained to complete their missions, handle stressful situations and respect authority. They learn skills in the military that translate into their civilian jobs. Besides technical proficiency, these include leadership training and teamwork.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) provides job protection and reinstatement rights to employees who participate in the National Guard and Reserve. All employers need to familiarize themselves with the provisions of this important law. Here are just a few of them: National Guard and Reserve members are entitled to a leave of absence from their civilian employers for military duty, whether voluntary or involuntary; employees are entitled to restoration of employment following military service, with seniority, status and rate of pay as if continuously employed; people cannot be discriminated against in hiring, retention, promotions or other benefits because of their military affiliation or obligations.
If you’re having problems dealing with employees who are members of the Guard or Reserve, or if you are looking for ways to show your support, there is an organization that’s available to give you help and advice. The National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) operates programs directed toward U.S. employers, employees and communities to help reservists and their employers learn to communicate better.
I encourage all Nevada employers to make use of the resources available from the ESGR, either on its Web site, by phone or through local volunteers. They can supply you with pamphlets and other printed materials, including an Employer Resource Guide, and also a DVD designed for human resources professionals, titled “Managing Your Military Employees Effectively.”
The ESGR also operates an ombudsman program to provide third-party assistance and informal mediation services in cases where employers and employees cannot agree on the often complex issues arising from the federal law. “The ESGR provides mediation in disputes, but we’d rather avoid conflict,” said Phil Dixon, ESGR’s employer outreach director for Nevada. “We want to be pro-active and help people avoid disagreements by making sure employers know their rights and responsibilities.” Dixon, who is based in Las Vegas, is one of several ESGR volunteers in communities throughout Nevada who are available to speak to employers, service clubs and community groups.
Dixon advises employers to review military leave policies to make sure they comply with the law. Managers and supervisors need to know about USERRA and have the tools they need to effectively manage reservist employees. Ask your employee’s commander to supply you with a military duty schedule for the unit. If you see potential conflicts between your employee’s work and military schedules, address them as early as possible so you’ll have a chance to negotiate alternative arrangements.
One way to let your employees and your community know that you stand behind our service members is to sign a Statement of Support, which is available on the ESGR Web site. It doesn’t cost anything, and takes only a few minutes of your time. The certificate can be proudly displayed in your office. It seems like the least we can do for the “citizen soldiers” who are sacrificing so much for our country.
To contact Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve
Employer Outreach Director for Nevada, Phil Dixon