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Balance between civilian and reservist
An on-line poll conducted by Workforce Management Magazine at its Web site asked if civilian employers might be reluctant to hire reservists and guardsmen because of the chance they could deploy for months at a time. (Photo illustration/Maj. David Kurle)
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On-line poll asks: Are employers reluctant to hire reservists?

Posted 5/7/2007   Updated 5/15/2007 Email story   Print story


by Maj. David Kurle
442nd Fighter Wing public affairs

5/7/2007 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- As reservists and guardsmen across the country continue to fight battles in the Global War on Terror, they might find getting hired for civilian employment could be a battle in and of itself.

An unscientific poll, conducted on-line by Workforce Management Magazine at its Web site, www.workforce.com, may be an indication of reluctance on the part of some employers to hire members of the Reserve and National Guard.

"If you, as an employer, knew that a military reservist or National Guard member could be called up and taken away from their job for an indeterminate amount of time, would you still hire a citizen soldier?" the poll asks.

Of the 409 respondents, as of April 4, 52 percent answered "no," 32 percent answered "yes," and 17 percent answered "I don't know."

"It's an unscientific survey," said Robert Scally, senior on-line editor for Workforce Management and workforce.com. "You can't put too much stock in it.

"However, I think it's definitely something people in the Guard and Reserve should be concerned about," Mr. Scally said. "I'm kind of surprised you haven't seen this story in the general press, but I think you will."

In Missouri, the case load for ombudsmen, trained by the Department of Defense's Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve organization to mediate disputes between reservists and their employers, has risen for the past three years, according to statistics compiled by the Missouri Committee for ESGR.

"At least for the Missouri Guard, we went from 3,000 deployed to 500 (from 2004 to 2006), so the deployments are way down, but the number of (ESGR) cases are up," said Steve Vanderhoof, Missouri's ESGR Program Specialist, who's also an officer in the Missouri Army National Guard.

In 2004, Missouri ESGR ombudsmen handled 80 cases, which climbed to 98 in 2005, but soared in 2006 to 251 - 40 of which were classified as discrimination complaints.

Members of the Reserve and Guard are protected in their civilian careers under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on an individual's membership in the armed forces.

But even ESGR admits that discrimination can't be substantiated in some cases, especially in hiring.

"It is hard to prove," Mr. Vanderhoof said. "Except that the way the (USERRA) law is written, the burden of proof is on the employer as to whether a person didn't get a job because of their military service."

Air Force Reserve Maj. Robert Palmer, chief of strategic communication for the National Committee for ESGR in Washington, agreed.

"The trouble with discrimination is that it's hard to prove," he said. "There's no law that says an employer cannot ask a potential hire if they are a member of the Guard or Reserve.

"The issue is whether there is discrimination because of the answer," Major Palmer said.

He also said the Defense Department has not conducted a valid scientific survey on the issue of hiring discrimination.

However, Major Palmer does offer some advice to reservists who might be trying to get hired for civilian employment.

"They should be honest, but not offer any information that is not required in the interview or on the application," he said and stressed again that reservists should "be honest" if asked about their military affiliation.

However, because the military endows its guardsmen and reservists with valuable skills and training, a member's affiliation with the Guard or Reserve would probably show up on a resume.

Mr. Vanderhoof recommended reservists who suspect hiring discrimination contact ESGR before filing a formal complaint with the Department of Labor.

"Often times, a phone call from us can fix it," he said. The Missouri ESGR committee has contacts among many companies' upper management who can bypass decisions made by lower-level managers who might be hiring for a certain position.

He also recommended that reservists seek out "military-friendly" employers, which can be found through Web sites like VetJobs.com.

"Those resources are out there," Mr. Vanderhoof said. "There're hundreds, if not thousands, of employers who cherish their military employees.

"Most employers get a pretty good employee when they hire a military person," he said.

"I think a guardsman or reservist needs to be a model employee," Major Palmer said. "If they're not, it reflects poorly on all of us."

Being a good employee includes letting a civilian employer know, with as much notice as possible, about unit training assembly schedules, drill periods, annual tours and deployments, he said.

Sprint-Nextel Corporation, the country's third-largest wireless voice and data communications company, with its operational headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., claims approximately 3,300 of its 64,500 employees are members of the Guard and Reserve, according to Miles McMillin, a Sprint spokesperson.

He said that increased deployments since Sept. 11, 2001, have not adversely affected the company's manpower or its hiring policies toward guardsmen and reservists.

The company's Web site devotes a page toward recruiting military members to work at Sprint.

"In 2003, Sprint was recognized for outstanding practice in the hiring of military veterans by being named the second-most military-friendly company for Fortune 500 companies," Mr. McMillin said.

"Employees who are deployed stay 'whole' as far as salary is concerned," he said. "Sprint makes up any difference between what the employee's military pay is and what his or her regular Sprint salary is.

"Additionally, while many employers have a limit on how long they provide benefits to an employee who is deployed, Sprint has no time limit," Mr. McMillin said.

Mr. Scally, from Workforce Management magazine, said he believes larger employers, like Sprint, are better able to absorb the temporary loss of its Guard and Reserve employees than smaller companies.

"I think it's generally something of an issue in smaller businesses where they have a harder time with it," he said.

In the meantime, more Citizen Airmen are supporting worldwide missions through volunteerism than at any time in the history of the Air Force Reserve, and, as of March 21, 80,373 guardsman and reservists from all branches were serving on active duty.

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