Formerly known as the territorial army - or more unkindly the “Sunday Soldiers” - Britain’s military reservists recently gained new employment protection. On 1st October, the Army Reserve, the Royal Naval Reserves (including the Royal Marines Reserves) and the Royal Air Force Reserves – gained the right to claim unfair dismissal without any service qualification if they can provide evidence that they were dismissed because of their membership of the Reserves. Reservists play a key role in the defence of Britain and its global security, and the Government takes the view that it is right that companies play their part where they can to help people who perform this service largely in their spare time. This change fits in with the Government’s plan to cut the number of Regulars and make up the numbers with a much larger Reserve Force.
The new right adds to Reservists’ existing right of return. If a reservist takes time off, an employer is required to re-employ him (or her) if he was last employed in the four week period before mobilisation. Rather like a return to work after maternity leave, the Reservist has the right to return to the same job on terms no less favourable than those which would have applied if there had been no call-up. If the original roles isn’t available for some reason, the Reservist must be offered the most favourable terms in the circumstances within six months after the end of his military service.
Before this change, Reservists have had a difficult time of it. Time spent on active service or on pre-deployment training did not count towards continuous service. Now their status is protected. Recruitment was also an issue as employers are not always keen to hire people who may disappear for three or six months on a tour of duty and sadly in the worst case may not return. In some ways that can be rather short sighted because well-trained military people can be an asset, as they tend to work well under pressure and understand the importance of procedure and discipline. If you’ve ever had to struggle with ill-disciplined time keeping, for example, you might appreciate an employee with a different approach.
Military reservists may be mobilised at any point, although both the employer and Reservist have the right to apply for an exemption or deferral of mobilisation in certain circumstances.
Large companies have been managing with reservists for decades, but it does seem as though the changes have been rushed through without thought into how smaller companies will cope. Small and medium sized businesses in particular could suffer significantly if a key staff member is absent for such a long period. The problem continues to exist, and although the Reserve Forces Regulations allow small and medium-sized employers to claim £500 per month (pro-rated for part-timers) on top of the current financial assistance, this is small comfort to a business with only 15 employees, especially if the Reservist has specialist skills or knowledge and can’t easily be replaced. The disruption of losing a reservist can’t be offset with £500.
Under Force 2020 plans, Reservists will go from 19-27 training days per year up to 40 days. These will mostly be on weekends, but this could increase fatigue amongst reservist employees who carry out high-pressure jobs during the week.
How this will all work out remains to be seen. There are clearly challenges for employers ahead and if you have a reservist on your team you’ll have to factor in plans to deal with absences for active duty. Britain needs to be defended, and Reservists will play a vital part in that. It is reasonable that when they come back from this task they are able to return to their original role. The increased training is important for making today’s Reserves more professional for active service – particularly in the more complex battle spaces Britain encounters. We will have to wait and see whether the increased training causes fatigue. It is never going to be easy for SMEs who employ Reservists, and we have to assume that the new provisions could also make turning down a job applicant on the basis of their being a Reservist unlawful. The only way to manage is to plan. The good news is that for extended campaigns the MOD intends to plan the deployment of Reservists as long in advance as possible so that the troops themselves and their employers do get more notice.
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