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When a Key Employee Joins the Service

When a Key Employee Joins the Service

Small businesses depend on each team member to play a vital role in the operation. So naturally, no owner wants to see a key player swap out his or her work garb for an Armed Services uniform. But those who employ reservists must deal with the real possibility that Uncle Sam can call up a military employee at any time.

More and more businesses find themselves struggling to compensate for the resulting void. For these companies, even one deployment can cause operational problems over an extended period of time, if not indefinitely. What's more, the government safeguards the work rights of enlisted persons.

Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights legislation ensures that reservists do not lose their previous jobs while they are fulfilling their obligation. It also prohibits businesses from discriminating against individuals in any employment aspect as a result of reserve service. In fact, they can return after deployment with the same seniority, status and pay, as well as other related rights.

Chief among the continuation of benefits is healthcare coverage. An employee who is absent 30 days or less - at a training session, for instance - can continue medical coverage at the same cost during this period. If service goes beyond 30 days, the appropriate military health care plan will kick in. These individuals also may elect to continue employer sponsored health care for up to 24 months, though they may have to pay up to 102 percent of the full premium.

After deployment, the returning employee is entitled to re-enroll in the company's medical or health insurance plan with no required waiting period or exclusion. On the flip side, an employer-sponsored health program is not required to cover those injuries or illnesses related to military service.

While this law helps preserve the livelihoods of military men and women, it also tightens the economic vise on small businesses dealing with call-ups. A study from the Congressional Budget Office concluded that the USERRA can impose additional costs and diminished flexibility in filling vacancies. In some cases, the deployed person's absence may mean decreased production, lost sales and more.

Fortunately, there is some relief. The Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan program offers funds to eligible small businesses to meet ordinary and necessary operating expenses when an essential employee is called to active duty. Intended to supply only working capital needed to maintain the status quo until key personnel return from service, these monies do not cover lost income or lost profits. They also do not apply to commercial debt, refinance of loans or business expansion.

The Battle at Home

Small businesses stung by an employee's deployment must wrestle with a number of issues. The most important, however, is making up for lost manpower. Even so, owners have a range of options.

They might decide to lean a bit on other employees to take up the slack, for instance. Through tweaking work schedules and issuing overtime, companies sometimes quash the problem without taking on outside help, at least for a while. But a reservist's deployment might last anywhere from weeks to years – so some companies eventually opt to seek contract workers on an as-needed basis.

For those owners needing full-time help, staffing agencies offer a number of solutions. Many firms not only provide temporary candidates, but temporary-to-permanent as well. Where physician, dental and other medical practices are concerned, a locum tenens agency can offer qualified coverage to insure patient or client care does not suffer.

Here are some additional tips for maintaining consistent operations during a valuable employee's deployment:

  • Put together procedural guides and manuals that outline the reservist's job duties. Make sure to update and revise these as needed for future deployments.
  • Learn the ins-and-outs of your deployed employee's job.
  • Ensure at least one other staff member understands those responsibilities and can assume them at a moment's notice.
  • When using the services of temporary employment agencies and independent contractors, be honest regarding the deployed employee's eventual return.
  • Train replacements in advance to avert problems later. Have them "job shadow" the reservist staff member, taking notes of his or her work routine.
  • Before the employee deploys, give replacement personnel a trial run to identify additional training needs.

When possible, small business owners should set up communication lines with activated employees prior to deployment. A quick way is to swap email addresses with the reservist themselves or with their family members and commanding officers. This simple step allows businesses to stay in the loop when it comes to their employees' whereabouts. Ultimately, the measure not only keeps companies up-to-date on the safety of their staff members, but also allows them to better plan their next operational move.

Aside from relief loans, the SBA also offers management support. The nonprofit organization teams up with its vast range of resource partners to provide business development, counseling and training designed to fill the void deployed staff members leave behind. Those interested should contact their district SBA office. A list of local resources is available at https://www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance.

The Hard Reality

As is the case with most small businesses, very few operations go from one week to the next without some type of challenge. Call it "damage control" or "putting out fires," a setback almost always rears its ugly head when running a full-blown business with only a handful of folks.

No business can afford to lose a primary staff member. But if this does occur, thorough preparation might make all the difference between effectively maintaining operations and taking a big hit. Approach the problem with flexibility, creativity and practicality. Innovative employers can always find factors to work in their favor.