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Archive for Monday, December 3, 2001

Holding their places

December 3, 2001

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Employers and reservist employees can make the system work with fair and honest deportment.

Among those who will have to make sacrifices for the good of the country and its citizens are employers who have personnel called to active duty for the ongoing conflict against terrorism.

The Pentagon has indicated there will be an eventual call-up of at least 50,000 reservists. That means some employers will have to adjust and make sure that the jobs of the service people are open and waiting when they return. There can be no alternatives for the good worker.

During the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and 1991, more than 265,000 reservists were called to active duty, often leading to workplace conflicts. In 1994, Congress enacted the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which now will be tested, especially if reservists return to their civilian jobs a year or more after leaving. The fact the employment picture in the pre-Sept. 11 period was shaky and has continued to deteriorate in some sectors is another problem.

There will be numerous interpretations, depending on the length of reservists' absences. The law says that if a reservist is on active duty for up to 90 days, he or she is entitled to the same job held before. If the active duty extends longer than that, a reservist is entitled to the same job or the employer can place that person "in a position of like seniority, status and pay."

Employers are expected to provide reservists on active duty the same benefits they would get if they were still working in the civilian jobs, such as insurance coverage, accrued vacation time, pension credits and employee stock ownership. Employers do not have to rehire returning personnel if "changed business circumstances" make that impossible.

There are bound to be court tests, but employers can avoid costly, messy problems by simply being fair, honest and adhering to the law to the best of their ability.

Another facet is that employers need not rehire reservists who are dishonorably discharged from service, where re-employment of a disabled reservist would "impose undue hardship" on the employer or where the reservist is a temporary worker at the time of the call-up with no expectation of long-term employment.

We could be encountering a lot of "sticky wickets" once the reservists begin to return. But the bottom-line is that employers and employees who both operate in good faith and with a sense of fairness will not encounter serious pitfalls after the reservist has fulfilled his or her obligation.

Again, good faith will be the key.

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