Welcome Home! Tips for helping deployed military personnel back into your business

by Jen Hickey.

Since 9/11, the U.S. has deployed the largest number of active duty and reservists since the Vietnam War. Of the more than2.3 million deployed (with over 760,000 National Guard and Reserve), about half have left the military (with about 640,000 Guard and Reservists deactivated). And over the next few years, it’s expected that even more soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen will be returning to or seeking civilian jobs. For small businesses, filling the boots of those citizen soldiers during sometimes multiple deployments of a year or more has had its costs. But keeping the lines of communication open before, during, and after deployment can help ease their transition back into the workplace. There are also legal and logistical factors a small business must consider if temporary help has been brought in during those deployments.

When Frank Strong, a career reservist, got orders to deploy to Iraq in October 2005, he was one-third of the marketing team at Tysons Corner, Virginia based Managed Objects, a $30-million software company of 100 people at the time. “As soon as you get notification of deployment, you’re obligated to let your employer know,” explains Strong. “so they can make the necessary adjustments.”  Before he left, Strong’s co-workers had a party for him and bought him an iPod. While his employer brought in help during his deployment, his position was open when he returned, as is required by law.

According to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), employers are obligated to reinstate uniformed services employees who have been deployed to the same position or one that is commensurate in responsibility and pay, as well as continue health benefits for up to 24 months. And depending on the length of deployment, returning uniformed services employees may beentitled to leave time before having to return to their civilian jobs. Returning service members are also entitled to any promotions and/or salary increases that may have occurred during their absence, as well as reinstatement of health benefits if they chose to use military health plan during deployment.

Including training leading up to his deployment, Strong was gone for about a year and a half, returning in the spring of 2007. But he kept in touch with his employer, exchanging emails with his boss at least monthly. “He’d keep me updated on what’s going on with the company,” recalls Strong. When he returned, Strong met with his boss and visited the office to let everyone know he’d be returning. “It’s important to show your face and let your employer know you’ll bet back,” notes Strong. “But employers should also encourage their employees to take the full time they’re allotted after their service, because you need that time to visit family and friends, arrange housing and get your life in order.” Upon his return from Iraq, Strong took the full 90 days he was entitled to before returning to work.

Louie Keen has employed several active-duty military, Reservists, National Guard, and veterans, as well as their spouses, at his three small businesses in St. Robert, Missouri, home to Fort Leonard Wood, the U.S. Army’s Maneuver Support Center, which trains up to 90,000 military and civilians each year. “When I hire someone, their family becomes part of the organization,” explains Keen. “Our soldiers are protecting our country, we try to do that for their families while they’re gone.” Keen keeps in contact with spouses and invites the families to company events and holiday parties. “It gives soldiers peace of mind knowing their families are being treated the same way while they’re away.”