This guest column was written by John Kingery, a military ombudsman and attorney.
Today, almost half of our military force resides in the Reserve Component, which is comprised of National Guard and Reserve. The men and women who serve in the Reserve Component are unique in that they also have civilian employers. Support of America’s employers and the employees they share with the nation ensures the viability of the all-volunteer force, and thus our national security. Our servicemembers effectiveness depends on all three legs of a stool working together. The three legs are: 1) the servicemember and his or her training, 2) their family, and 3) their employer. Leaving their place of work to fulfill military duties can be a difficult transition for servicemembers, their families, and their employers.
Servicemembers have certain rights and responsibilities under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). This federal law (Tittle 38 U.S. Code, Chapter 43, Sections 4301-4335) affects employment, reemployment, employment benefits, seniority, and retention in employment when employees serve in the uniformed Services. Fortunately, the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) understands the unique talents and skillset Guard and Reserve Service members can bring to the civilian workforce. To make this arrangement work, it is important that both parties know their rights and responsibilities under USERRA.
Established in 1972, ESGR is a Department of Defense agency that provides free USERRA education, consultation, and, if necessary, informal mediation. ESGR has volunteer Ombudsmen available to answer USERRA questions and respond to employment disputes related to military service. The ESGR website provides useful information for both servicemembers and employers and can be found at www.esgr.mil. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) is also a good source for information on USERRA.
In general, if an employee is absent from civilian employment by reason of service in the uniformed Services, he or she is guaranteed the right to be reemployed at their former job (or as nearly comparable a job as possible) with the same benefits. The servicemember must meet the following criteria:
- The employer had advance notice of the employee’s service
- The employee returns to work in accordance with USERRA guidelines
- The employee has been separated under honorable conditions
There are ways to say “thanks for your military service,” and ways to say “thanks for your support.” ESGR offers a Statement of Support program where employers can sign a pledge to support the military service of their employees. Simultaneously, ESGR offers a progressive awards program so servicemembers can nominate a supportive supervisor or employer for support that goes above and beyond what is required by the law. Again, check out www.esgr.mil for more information.
As an employer, you are vital in enabling your National Guard and Reserve employees to serve our country. Your active support and encouragement are critical to their success. You can support your servicemember employees by:
- Attend open house and public functions at local military units
- Ask your employees how they fit into the “big picture” of national defense
- Ensure policies include provisions for military leaves of absence, and ensure job opportunities and benefits equivalent to those of other employees
- Protect against discrimination
- Recognize and publicize National Guard and Reserve employees’ dedication and commitment to your business and the Nation
With the continued mobilization of our Guard and Reserve force it is the hope of ESGR to create a culture in which all American employers value the military service of their employees.