What obligations do employers owe to reservists?

By Mike Emmott, Public Policy Adviser on Employee Relations, CIPD

The Government is set to recruit more part-time soldiers and other service men and women.  A White Paper published in July committed to increasing the numbers of reservists and integrating them more closely with the regular forces. 

This will mean more of us will be working alongside reservist colleagues who will need time off to fulfil training and operational requirements.  They won’t be playing at it - in addition to regular training, they’ll be liable to be called up for periods of up to 12 months in the event of civil or military emergencies.

Many employers have no problem accommodating reservists, valuing the role of the armed forces and recognising the benefits employers get from the personal development offered to reservists.  But others, particularly smaller employers, will worry about the impact on their business of losing a valued employee for a significant period.  Line managers can also find it tedious having to organise the work of their team around a reservist’s training commitments.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that nearly half of reservists who responded to the recent government consultation said they had experienced disadvantage in the workplace on the basis of their status as a reservist.

Quite correctly in CIPD’s view, the Government has declined to provide additional statutory protections for reservists, on the grounds that it would risk antagonising employers and would be likely to be ineffective.  So what should responsible employers be doing to ensure that employees who choose to serve their country as reservists don’t lose out as a result?

It shouldn’t be that hard to deal with evening training sessions or short-term absences.  The statutory right for employees to request flexible working is being extended to all employees from next year.  Six-month assignments present similar issues to maternity (or paternity) leave.

Delivering on the ambition to attract more reservists and give them a more central role in the armed forces will not necessarily be easy.  So the Ministry of Defence is keen to work more closely with employers, for example in developing joint graduate training schemes.

Employers will also benefit from having a written policy on reservists.  This can spell out what each party owes the other, and help line managers who have a reservist on their team.  A policy might for example establish what leave a reservist is entitled to, what happens to employment terms if he or she is called up and what should happen following their return to work.  But a key benefit from having a policy will be in pinning the employer’s colours to the mast and showing it cares.

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