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How to Keep Your Civilian Boss on Your Side

Communication is Key

Don’t take your employer’s support for granted. Keep your boss informed about what you do in the military and when you do it. Let your boss know the vital mission that is supported by your participation in the National Guard or reserve. Let your boss know how your military experience and training will make you a more capable civilian employee. Take time to recognize the sacrifice your boss and coworkers make when they support you.

Here are some ways to keep your boss on your side.

1. Be open with your boss about your National Guard service.

If your military service relates to your civilian job, your boss would be pleased to know that you are learning and practicing military skills that can pay off on the job. Even if what you do in the National Guard is different from your civilian job, sharing the details can impress your boss. You are using your spare time to participate in a second career that is of great importance to your community and the nation. That is a strong indication to people at work that you are the type of person who seeks out and can handle serious responsibility.

Take advantage of unit and employer support programs and services to help you explain to your employer the vital role of the National Guard in the national military strategy.

2. Know your rights under federal law.

Federal law guarantees you the right to take time off from work to attend to your military responsibilities. The more that you, your boss and your personnel office know about the federal laws and legal precedents that spell out laws protecting reserve reemployment rights, the less chance there is for misunderstanding.

Learn your rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

3. Give advance notice of drills and trainings.

The more you share with the boss – and the earlier you share it – about drill schedules, annual training plans, reemployment rights and rules, and any extra time-off requirements, the easier things will be on you and your workplace. Many units meet on the same weekend of each month, with exceptions for holidays or when scheduled annual training intervenes. If your unit follows this pattern, let your employer know. Give advanced notice whenever your service may interfere with your civilian job. When schedule changes occur, be sure to notify your employer as soon as you know about them so your boss can make plans to accommodate your absence.

Here are some typical military schedule scenarios you can share with your employer:

  • Annual training schedules. Most units schedule their AT months in advance – that is the time to provide notification to the employer. A change in orders can be more easily handled than an unplanned absence. If you are going to be on an advance party, or if your AT will exceed the traditional two weeks, make sure your employer knows about it well in advance.
  • Extra training. To the extent that you have control over the scheduling of additional training, try to minimize any adverse impact your absence will cause from the civilian job. Show consideration for your boss and your coworkers when you volunteer for nonessential training.
  • Non-training active duty. Many National Guard members perform tours of active duty that are not for training. This can range from short active-duty tours, to support exercises or work on special projects, to years of active duty in the active Guard reserve or similar programs. Again, under USERRA, prior notice of this type of duty must be given to your employer. Remember, too, that most duty of this type is subject to a cumulative five-year time limit, after which you no longer have reemployment rights under USERRA with a given employer.
  • Emergency/contingency duty. Many reserve component members have served on active duty in support of such operations as the Persian Gulf conflict. In any case, when you have been activated involuntarily for a particular mission, your period of service will not count against the cumulative five-year limit established under USERRA. In most cases, voluntary duty will also be exempt from the five-year limit if it is in direct support of a contingency operation.

4. Know your employment limitations and your employer’s rights.

Your employer should always treat you fairly, but there are certain limitations you should be aware of, especially with regards to your absence from the workplace.

  • Handling your timesheet. If you miss work while you perform military service, your employer is not obligated to reschedule you to make up the time lost. However, if employees who miss work for nonmilitary reasons are afforded opportunities to make up the time lost, you must be treated in the same manner. Furthermore, you cannot be required to find a replacement worker for the shift(s) you will miss as a condition of being given the time off by your employer to perform military service.
  • Using your vacation leave. Federal law allows you the option to use earned vacation while performing military service, but you cannot be required to do so. The only case where you could be required to use your vacation would be if your company has a planned shutdown period when everyone must take vacation, and your military service coincides with that period of time.
  • Accruing vacation leave. Your employer is not required to provide for vacation accrual while you are absent from work performing military service, unless accrual is permitted for employees on nonmilitary leave of absence of similar length.
  • Tracking Your pay. Although some private and government employers provide full or partial civilian pay to employees absent on military duty – usually for a limited period of time – the law requires only an unpaid leave of absence.
  • Federal employee paid military leave. Federal employees are entitled to time off at full pay for certain types of active or inactive duty in the National Guard or as a reserve of the armed forces. More information is available from the Office of Personnel Management.

5. Enlighten your workplace about your impact as a service member.

Inform your employer and your community about the impact of the military on the local economy. Let the community know what your unit and others in the region contribute to the local economy through salaries, construction and local purchases. Work with your leadership to publish an annual financial report. Encourage your public affairs office to develop and distribute press releases to local papers and television stations whenever events or actions occur that stimulate the economy.

6. Be active in the community.

Make the unit a live, vital element in the community. Cooperate in community affairs and work on supportive projects whenever possible, within the military mission and you will see increased employer and community support.

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