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Guard-Reserve Ombudsman Says 'All Quiet' On Employer Front

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2001 – Employers of National Guard and Reserve members are ready to support employees called to active duty for the fight against terrorism, said an official of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.

"Employers from across the country are asking what they can do to help," Army Lt. Col. Jess Soto, director of ombudsman services at committee headquarters in Arlington, Va., said Sept. 16.

Soto said employers' major concerns seem to be what happens when their employees are called up and what kind of benefits they must provide while guardsmen and reservists are deployed and when they return.

A liaison between reserve component members and their civilian employers, the committee has a headquarters staff and about 4,500 volunteers nationwide and in U.S. territories, he said.

"We get calls from either employers or Guard or Reserve members," he said, "usually related to either an issue or a conflict directly related to civilian employment and military duty."

Under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Re- employment Rights Act of 1994, Soto said, Guard and Reserve members can perform military duty for up to a five-year accumulative limit and receive job reinstatement when they return. Yet, the law protects both deployed Guard and Reserve troops and their employers.

He called USERRA a "workable accommodation." While reserve service members enjoy job protection, the job they pick up upon return might not necessarily be the exact same job they left, he added. The law protects members from financial loss due to their military service and states they must be paid the same salary they had at the time they left.

In turn, USERRA requires military members to provide employers the earliest notice possible of military duty, in order to mitigate worksite disruption, Soto said.

Employers can ask commanders to temporarily defer employees for later duty on a case-by-case basis, he noted. But the final decision, he added, rests with military authorities.

"If you are a small business operation, a call-up can affect you more," Soto acknowledged. Most employers, regardless of size, he noted, hire either full-time or temporary workers to replace employees who depart for military duty.

Soto said employers have been generally calm since President Bush's Sept. 14 order to partially mobilize Guard and reserve forces in response to Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"No one is panicking," Soto said of the employers. "The $64,000 question is, at what point does military duty become so overwhelming that it impacts too greatly on civilian business and enterprise?"

At this point, nobody knows the answer to that question, Soto said.

The employer support committee was established in 1972. The Department of Labor has oversight authority for USERRA, Soto said, adding that DoD was designated to disseminate information about the law. The committee, he said, falls under the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

For more information on USERRA and on the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, visit the committee Web site at http://esgr.org/.

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