MANAGEMENT: Who To Call When Employees Are Called for Duty

The manager of human resources at a mid-sized waste firm is perplexed. Some of the employees are either active-duty military or in the reserves. Two of them were called for service in Kosovo. "What kind of obligation does the company have?" she wonders.

The United States has trimmed the size of its total armed forces and has retained their all-volunteer character by looking to the National Guard and military reserves. Indeed, the guard and reserves account for about half of the nation's military units, according to the Department of Defense. These arrangements create potential problems for reservists and their employers.

The troops were barely home from Operation Desert Storm when, in 1994, the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Act was signed into law. Its purpose was to eliminate job discrimination against men and women who are officially activated for combat or support duty.

The law, which covers both full-time and part-time employees, guarantees that returning soldiers - active duty and reserve - be rehired by their employer in the same (or comparable) position and at the salary they would be earning had they remained on the job throughout their call-up period, which can last as long as five years.

The National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve was created to help employers deal with "increased burdens associated with the [country's] increased use of reserve components," according to Defense Department officials. The agency is responsible for assisting employers in coping with the conflicts that arise when military duties interrupt the workings of business and industry.

"We're very sensitive to the issues of employers," says Lt. Col. Michael Edrington, a spokesman for the National Committee, which relies on a network of some 4,000 volunteers to handle and mediate the clash of interests. For example, employers caught in a bind have used the agency to facilitate the deferral of a deployment date. On the other hand, employees are expected to do their part - promptly notifying their employers about deployment dates and training schedules.

Everyone knows it's not easy for employers and workers when those in the military services have been uprooted from their careers, homes and families. Nevertheless, "citizen soldiers are part of today's total force," says Lt. Col. Edrington in The Washington Post. "It's an issue, and it will be a bigger issue."

To contact the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, call toll-free: (800) 336-4590.