Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks shocked our nation and launched the war on terror, the role of the National Guard and Reserve has shifted from what was historically a “strategic reserve” force to an “operational” reserve. Roughly half of our military capacity resides in the Reserve Components, making the National Guard and Reserve an indispensable part of military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.
Employers of America’s National Guard and Reserve members have become inextricably linked to a strong national defense. As an employer, you are vital to enabling your employees who are in National Guard and Reserve to serve their country. Your support and encouragement are key to their success. It is more important than ever that employers are aware of their responsibilities under the federal law that protects the employment rights of Guardsmen and Reservists. The law that provides this job protection is called the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA.
This law was enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton on October 13, 1994. The USERRA law has three basic purposes:
- Encourage service in the Reserve Components by eliminating or minimizing the disadvantages to Reservists’ civilian careers due to their military service.
- Minimize disruption to the lives of members serving in the Guard and Reserve, as well as to their employers, fellow employees and communities by providing for prompt re-employment upon completion of military service.
- Prohibit discrimination against Reserve Component members because of their service in the U.S. Armed Forces.
In order to support employees who serve in the Guard or Reserves, employers in both the private and public sectors need to be aware of USERRA and its provisions. One of the most important things you need to know about USERRA is that it entitles the service member to a leave of absence from their civilian job for the period necessary to perform military service—whether voluntary or involuntary. The employee cannot be required to use vacation, sick leave or other earned compensatory time for the period of military service. Under USERRA, the employee is also entitled to continued seniority benefits during the period of service, such as pension credit upon re-employment. Additionally, the employee is entitled to prompt reinstatement upon their return from military duty without loss of seniority, status or pay rate for the period of service. The law also entitles Guard and Reserve members to seek resolution through the U.S. Department of Labor if a conflict arises as a result of their military service.
There is a Department of Defense program in place to educate and support employers and Reservists and assist in resolving any potential employment issues due to service in the Guard or Reserve. That program is called ESGR—Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.
ESGR was established in 1972 to promote cooperation and understanding between Reserve Component members and their civilian employers. Today, ESGR operates through a network of more than 4,500 volunteers throughout 56 committees located in each state, U.S. territory and the District of Columbia. The sole purpose of ESGR is to work to ensure continued support of Guard and Reserve service by civilian employers here in Illinois and across the nation.
In cases where employment problems do arise because of military service in the Guard and Reserve, ESGR has an Ombudsman Program, which offers mediation services to help resolve the issue.
Here are some suggestions on how you can help support your employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve:
- Learn more about the role of the National Guard and Reserve. Attend open houses and public functions at local military units. Talk about the National Guard and Reserve with military and civilian leaders in your community. 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 military duty schedule and work out conflicts as early as possible, while alternative arrangements may be possible. If you would like an introduction, contact us and we’ll get your local ESGR representative to make arrangements for you to meet them.
- Put your support in writing by signing a Statement of Support for the National Guard and Reserve. Display it prominently for all of your employees and visitors to see. These certificates can be obtained from the Illinois ESGR Committee.
- Look at your personnel policies to see how they accommodate and support participation in the National Guard or Reserve. For example, do they include provisions for military leave of absence (exclusive of earned vacation time); do they ensure job opportunities and benefits equivalent to those of other employees? Illinois ESGR can provide you with information on what other businesses are doing to accommodate National 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 concerns as they may rise.
- Encourage employee participation in the National Guard and Reserve. Recognize and publicize their dedication and commitment to your business and the nation. Apply the training they receive from military duty. You’ll be surprised to realize how much it enhances their job performance and value to your organization.
- Seek assistance from the Illinois ESGR Committee. Ask to speak with an ombudsman. Ombudsmen serve as confidential, neutral liaisons for employers and employees who seek assistance or clarification regarding their rights and responsibilities. Approximately 90 percent of the calls they receive are resolved to the satisfaction of everyone involved. Our ombudsmen work closely with the Veteran’s Employment and Training Service/Department of Labor and will refer you to them if formal assistance is needed.
If you remember nothing else, it is important to know that the ESGR program is available to help you. For more information on USERRA or ESGR, call Illinois ESGR at (217) 761-3642 or visit the ESGR website at esgr.com. iBi