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March 10, 2003
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Coming Back Home

(This is the second in a two-part series on counties and the impact of call-ups on military reservists.)

In the case of disability, HR should be quick to work with the returning soldiers to ensure a safe return to their former positions. If not, the organization should go far beyond the obligation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and make sure that it figures out a creative answer, if at all possible, to maintain the soldierÕs employment in productive public service work. This positive intervention approach may extend to providing job counseling for an employment search by the spouse of the returning soldier.

The ADA requires that an employer reasonably accommodate a qualified person with a disability. This must be done up to the point where the agency can demonstrate that accommodation would be an undue hardship.

The HR Doctor's position is that with an employee who is disabled through military combat, there should hardly be any circumstances in which the undue hardship is demonstrated. A non-combat disability, on the other hand, should also require the sympathetic support of the employer but is, arguably, different qualitatively in our national conscience than a combat injury.

There is another dimension to employerÕs support for military service that is more frustrating for an employer and is unrelated to a particular national crisis. That is the fact that orders for training or military service may come, not as the result of crisis, but as a result of volunteer desire for additional service credit on the part of an employee serving in the Reserves or National Guard. As the person approaches retirement or a promotion, they may seek out all possible opportunities to attend schools, accumulate additional hours of service or otherwise volunteer for activities, which may help their military pension objectives.

In such cases, the employer may find repeated shorter periods of activation, which can be disruptive to schedules. The most responsible and accountable employees will take steps to balance their interests in additional military service credit with the need to be respectful of the employerÕs interest as well.

When this doesn't happen, the results can be another effect of a mandated expense for local government in the form of additional overtime for other people or frustrations in scheduling problems for the supervisors.

A final note about health-related uncertainties associated with military service. We are now in a world paying more attention to biological weapons and chemical weapons. We have learned, or should have learned, that weapons designed to help win a war may, in fact, actually increase the victor's losses over time. A case in point is Agent Orange, with long term and perhaps catastrophic health affects.

There is often an initial federal response to such issues, denying any responsibility or denying any links between health problems such as Gulf War syndrome problems and military service. When this happens, the burden shifts Ñ again Ñ to local government benefit programs to bear the burden. In effect, this contributes to additional costs in insurance premiums for every employee and member of their families as well as the local agency.

While local governments support federal policy through military leave programs such as those described above, wouldnÕt it be great if the federal government put down the #2 pencil of denial and picked up a shiny fountain pen of support and understanding for the sacrifices made by local public employees and by cities and counties throughout the country? The HR doctor thinks the answer should be a clear "yes" as loud as a bugle call on a quiet morning. One can only hope that, Congress and the president will agree that these examples of unfunded mandates deserve to be addressed.

Meanwhile, the HR Doctor, formerly known as HR Captain Rosenberg, salutes his colleagues who may be on active duty and wishes them a safe deployment and a joyous return.


Phil Rosenberg

The HR Doctor

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