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Survey: Most employers can accommodate reservists

Oct. 7, 2013 - 07:34AM   |  
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How frustrated do employers get when reservists need to take time off for military duties?

That’s been a concern for defense officials, but many employers say it’s not really that big of a problem. And that could have sweeping implications for the Pentagon’s plans for the future.

According to an internal Pentagon survey of more than 10,000 employers, most companies do not have major concerns about hiring reservists and making the special accommodations required for part-time troops to fulfill their military responsibilities.

The survey, released publicly for the first time after a request from Military Times, found that most employers say the absence of reservists from the workplace for training and mobilizations had only a “small or modest” impact on their business operations or no impact.

It’s been a sensitive question for several years, as the number of reserve mobilizations soared at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Military officials have feared that private-sector employers would get fed up with reservists getting called up for duty and abruptly leaving their day jobs.

Military leaders feared the potential ripple effects: It could fuel a bias against hiring reservists. It could create problems recruiting and retaining high-quality reservists. And ultimately it could make future Pentagon leaders question whether the reserve components could be reliable in the long run in the same way they were during the past decade.

But after conducting extensive research, those concerns are fading.

“There’s a lot of anecdotal information and senior folks in the building talking about employer fatigue. It’s a myth, so we want to put that to rest,” Richard Wightman, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, told a recent meeting of the Reserve Forces Policy Board, a Pentagon advisory group.

Wightman pointed to the employer survey conducted in 2011 but only recently released publicly for the first time and said the results showed an “overwhelmingly positive” sentiment among most employers.

1 in 4 had trouble

A distinct minority of employers reported having a distinctly negative experience with reservists. About 25 percent said the absence of an employee resulted in a “large” increase in business costs to hire a replacement and a “large” disruption in their business activities. And 25 percent felt strongly that reservists’ absences were “too long.”

The remainder of employers, or about 75 percent, said the reservists’ absence created only a “small/modest” disruption or none at all.

Some 86 percent of employers said they were “satisfied” with the reservists in their own business, and 70 percent said the “training and experience received by National Guard and Reserve members make them more valuable to my business.”

Hiring reservists comes with responsibilities under the federal law known as the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act. That law prohibits employers from discriminating against reservists and requires them to continue their employment when they return from military duties.

Other results:

■More than half of employers in the survey said reservists, compared with other employees, have better teamwork skills, dependability, leadership skills and initiative.

■Reserve responsibilities do not appear to be a primary concern in the hiring process. Only 21 percent of employers said they ask job applicants about their military status during the hiring process.

■About 62 percent of employers said they are willing to provide reservists with continued health benefits during their absence and 44 percent said they would provide continued payment of salaries.

■About 70 percent of employers said their employee’s absence did not result in a loss of existing business or a challenge in finding new business. Yet more than half, or 53 percent, said the reservists’ absence had a negative effect on co-workers’ morale.

The survey suggested that employers have been facing these issues for years. Some 72 percent said they had an employee who was absent from work for military duties for up to 30 days during the previous three-year period and about 32 percent said they had to accommodate an employee who was gone for more than one year.

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