With many servicemen and servicewomen going back to work from their reservist duties, employers must work hard to make the transition as positive as possible--and to avoid any discrimination that would fall under the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). By law, employers must provide the same or equivalent position to returning reservists without a loss of benefits. "[Reservists] just spent months in a war zone," says Alan C. Guarino, CEO and president of Cornell Group International, a staffing service in Newburgh, New York. "Employers need to be cognizant of the acclimation they have to go through."
Yet statistics show many employers aren't as cognizant as they should be. There were 1,315 complaints filed with the Department of Labor from National Guardsmen and reservists in fiscal 2003 regarding discrimination; in 2001, there were 900 complaints.
So how can you make sure you're not part of the problem? Experts suggest setting a policy in place before the reservist employee leaves, detailing plans for the person's return. According to law, what an employer must do is black and white, says Barry Carlson, west region area president of ADP TotalSource, an HR services provider. The gray area comes in what you should do to welcome an employee back. "Talk to them about the reintegration process, about changes that may have occurred in the company [while] they were gone, about their experiences," Carlson says.
Also communicate with the rest of your staff. If job duties were spread around during the reservist's absence, detail how they'll be redistributed--but don't expect the person to be back up to speed in 48 hours. It takes time to make the transition smooth.
For more about USERRA, visit the Department of Labor Web site: www.dol.gov/elaws/vets/userra.