A recent government announcement that the Territorial Army and other UK reserve forces are to grow to around 35,000 by 2020 will inevitably have an impact on both private and public sector employers as most reservists also have civilian jobs.
This will mean that reserves not only provide individual reinforcements to regular units, but also deploy as formed units. In the context of civilian employment, the consultation also proposes ways of trying to boost employer cooperation.
It suggests that there should be a new relationship between reservists, employers and the government, which includes a more transparent approach in order to provide employers with more certainty as to the timing of possible mobilisations and more notice when they occur.
Many employers already willingly release their staff to train as reservists as they see the benefits in their actively contributing to the nation’s security.
They also appreciate the free training that their employees receive, not least because most of the skills that they learn are transferrable and enhance their civilian expertise. Staff are able to obtain everything from HGV licences and first aid to language qualifications.
(Support for Britain’s Reservists & Employers), which conducts marketing and communications activities on behalf of the Ministry of Defence
, calculated that employers would need to purchase more than £8,000 of commercial training in order to provide personnel with the same level of learning and development in leadership, organisation and problem-solving techniques as the average reservist receives each year.
Under the new consultation’s proposals, meanwhile, key reservists are likely to be “called up” to serve for six months every five years, a period of time which does not include the additional associated –pre-call-up training, post-deployment leave and recuperation.
The legal situation
Reservists may be mobilised at any time to serve in full-time operations and the employment implications of this are governed by two Acts:
- The Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985 grants reservists the right to apply for their old jobs back following a call-up and protects them from dismissal on the grounds that they might be called up
- The Reserve Forces Act 1996 deals with the circumstances in which reservists can be called into full-time military service and provides for the making of regulations that deal with exemptions and financial compensation.
When the call-up of a reservist employee takes place, the Ministry of Defence
sends their employer written notice informing them of the fact. However, the employer concerned has a right to seek a revocation or deferral of the mobilisation if it would cause harm to the business (that grants of financial assistance would not prevent).
Employers are obliged to re-employ any reservist who was employed by them in the four-week period before their call-up. The reservist should also be re-employed in the same job and on terms and conditions that are no less favourable than those that would have applied had there been no call-up.
If reinstatement is not reasonably practicable, the employee should be offered the most favourable terms and conditions that are reasonably practicable in the circumstances.
Although the current law protects reservists who are called up, there are still significant gaps in existing legislation. The issue is that a number of employers are far from convinced that employing a reservist is beneficial to their business.
Anecdotal evidence of them refusing to take on a potential staff member because they are in the reserves has circulated frequently amongst reservists.
Although a lot of public sector employers have policies in place that bar such a stance, the same is not true of the private sector. As a result, a number of reservists have felt obliged to hide their status, considering it a significant inhibitor to promotion and training opportunities in their civilian career.
Many such reservists also take annual leave in order to fulfil their reserve commitments.
The consultation is not proposing to introduce legislation that would prevent such discrimination, at the moment. The government may introduce such a law at a later date, however, if it believes that too many reservists are being denied promotion, training opportunities or employment.
Instead the proposals are to introduce:
- A ‘kitemark-type’ award for supportive employers in order to recognise the contribution that they are making by supporting the reserves
- Some kind of financial award for employers that support the reserve service, perhaps taking the form of an “employer award” (on top of that already provided when a reservist is mobilised for active service). It is unlikely to consist of reduced national insurance contributions, however, as this idea was seen as too difficult to administer
- The accreditation and benchmarking of skills and experience gained in the reserve service by creating recognised civilian qualifications, which would have direct benefit for employers by reducing their training costs
- A voluntary “Employers’ charter for Reservists”, which employers could agree to sign up to in order to show their commitment to the reserve forces
- A framework agreement under which employers would be aware that an employee was a reservist and the reservists themselves would be confident that such knowledge would not prejudice their employment prospects.
An expansion of the reservist force will only succeed if there is increased support from employers. And if the incentives work, it may not be necessary to introduce anti-discrimination legislation to ensure that, whether in the workplace or at interview, being a reservist is not a barrier to advancement in a civilian career.
John Gibson is barrister and notary public for law firm, Hill Dickinson. He also served in the Territorial Army (University of London Officers’ Training Corps and Royal Military Police) for 10 years.