Committee Strives to Strengthen Employer Support of Guard, Reserve
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 25, 2013 After repeatedly releasing their workers who also serve in the reserve and National Guard for more than 900,000 deployments since 9/11, one might expect employers to be growing weary of personnel management issues military departures may create in workplaces.
But Ronald Young, executive director for the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, said he finds it’s just not the case.
“Employers know this is important for the national security of this country,” Young said during an interview with American Forces Press Service.
“The United States has a voluntary force, and the reserve component represents close to 50 percent of the total force,” he said. “Without employers who support their employees during their time in uniform for weekend assemblies, additional training and mobilizations, some might be less likely to serve in the reserve components. So that employer support is critical.”
By law, employers have mandatory obligations to their Guard and reserve employees. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act protects service members’ reemployment rights when returning from military service. It also bans hiring discrimination based on a candidate’s military service or obligation.
“But many employers go above and beyond what the law requires,” Young said. Some employers continue providing pay and other benefits when their employees are mobilized. Others send care packages to their deployed workers and provide support to their families.
“The overwhelming, vast majority of employers tell me they see this as just doing their duty,” Young said. “They say, ‘This is our way of helping to do our duty as our employees go off to war -- by taking care of their families and continuing their benefits.’”
For the past 42 years, ESGR has worked to generate that level of support. Recognizing that a positive employer-employee relationship is a two-way street, ESGR helps ensure employers and reserve component members understand their rights as well as responsibilities under the law, Young explained.
ESGR’s network of 4,900 volunteers in all 50 states, all U.S. territories and the District of Columbia wear a variety of hats to promote the positive employer-employee relationships on which the reserve components depend, he said.
They’re advocates, promoting the importance of employer support and serving as a link between employers and the Defense Department. They’re also educators, offering employers and employees neutral, no-cost information and resources. They serve as champions, administering an extensive awards program that recognizes employers whose human resource personnel policies go above and beyond the spirit of the USERRA law. And when occasional conflicts arise between employers and employees related to military service, these volunteers become mediators who strive to help the parties overcome misunderstandings and resolve their issues.
In one of ESGR’s newest roles, they also help bridge the gap between employers who would like to hire military employees and National Guard members and reservists looking for employment through the Hero2Hired program.
“Over the past year, ESGR has interfaced with about 161,000 employers across the country,” Young reported. “That kind of outreach would be impossible if not for our voluntary committee members.”
“On a day-to-day basis, they meet with employers across the country and go to reserve component unit formations to talk … about the law and their responsibilities, and the services we have,” he said. “Seeing what they do, day in and day out, I know they serve as a readiness enhancer for units out there across the country.”
One of the volunteers’ most rewarding missions, Young said, is to present awards to companies and supervisors who demonstrate outstanding support for their Guard and reserve employees. Last year, more than 11,000 employees nominated their bosses for ESGR’s Patriot Award, which recognizes individual supervisors for their support.
In addition, ESGR state committees present the “Above and Beyond Award” to employers whose support surpasses the legal requirements of the USERRA law. Each year, state committees present the Pro Patria Award to one small, large and public-sector employer in each state or territory that has provided the greatest support to reserve-component employees through leadership practices and personnel policies.
The Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award is the most prestigious ESGR recognition, presented each year to employers who serve as national models for their support for the Guard and reserve.
As a sign of growing support, about 58,000 additional employers signed a formal Statement of Support for the Guard and Reserve last year, affirming their commitment to their employees who serve in the reserve components, Young reported.
This simple act sends a strong message to those employers’ Guardsmen and reservists, but also helps instill a workplace culture that recognizes and values the contributions reserve component members make to U.S. national defense, he said.
This ongoing support will remain critical as operations wind down in Afghanistan and fewer reserve component members are called on to serve combat deployments, he said.
“This nation owes a great debt of gratitude to the employers of the Guard and reserve across this country. Over the past 12 years, they have been phenomenal,” Young said. “Looking to the future, ESGR will continue to leverage that support because the United States will continue to depend on its reserve components.
“The Guard and Reserve are no longer just a strategic force to be put on the shelf to await the next engagement somewhere,” he added. “And because the nation will continue to depend on their service, the support of their employers will remain critical.”