When Duty Calls
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When the United States gets involved in a military conflict, reserve forces are activated. The effect on American businesses can be substantial--especially for those whose employees also happen to be in the military. But while you'll need to focus on keeping operations running smoothly despite the absence of key employees who've been called to service, keep in mind that your obligations to those employees are governed by both federal and state laws.
According to Walter J. Liszka, a senior shareholder and senior attorney at Wessels & Pautsch, P.C. in Chicago, all civilian employers, regardless of size, fall under the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) of 1994, as well as any state laws that regulate military service and/or leave. USERRA covers voluntary and involuntary absences of employees who need to perform military duties. Here, Liszka answers questions regarding your responsibilities to employees on military leave:
- Must you pay employees who are absent on account of military duties? According to Liszka, not unless you've already established a company policy that says you have to pay reservists the difference between their regular wage and their military pay. So if your policy states you must pay employees for the time spent at their annual two-week active-duty camp, you'll also be required to pay them if their reserve unit is activated for service.
- What about vacations or other paid leave? If your business does not pay for military leave, Liszka says employees have the right to use any vacation or other accumulated paid time off during their service but may also opt for an unpaid leave. If your company does have a policy of paying for military service time, you cannot require employees to use their vacations or paid leave while serving instead of receiving a regular salary.
- What happens to their benefits? You must extend the same benefits to employees who are absent for military service as you do to employees who are on nonmilitary leaves of absence, says Liszka.
- Can you replace employees on military leave? According to Liszka, while you are free to temporarily fill vacancies left by employees absent for military service, returning service members are entitled to re-employment in the same positions they left.
Certainly, Liszka says, we all hope for an early end to any military conflict, for the safety of that country's citizens and our military. "Regardless," Liszka continues, "all employers should note their obligations with regard to employees called to active duty."
Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 13 years ago and has been writing about business and management from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.
Wessels & Pautsch P.C., (312) 461-0500, fax: (312) 461-0595