HR Policy Differences Seen for Military Reservists' Pay, Benefits

May 5, 2003 ( - Policies for pay and other benefits for those called up for duty in the military services vary widely compared to what is required by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

A Web-based survey in late March and early April by Mercer Human Resource Consulting of 201 US employers found that more than a third of those responding (37%) increased pay for military leave; the remainder made no change.

Most of the companies surveyed (68%) pay reservists the difference between their civilian and military compensation while on active duty, and a small minority (8%) provides full civilian pay in addition to any military pay. However, 23% give no pay to active duty reservists at all, a stance consistent with USERRA requirements. The law does not require employers to continue regular pay during an employee’s period of uniformed service.

Of the companies surveyed, one-fifth (21%) award eight weeks or less of pay for military leave. At the other extreme, 46% provide pay for a year or more, including 27% who provide military leave pay for an unlimited amount of time, according to the survey.

Employers likewise take a variety of different approaches to medical benefits for their military reservists and their families. Four out of 10 continue the employer-sponsored coverage at existing levels/contributions indefinitely. About one-quarter (27%) allow reservists to maintain existing coverage through COBRA, and 5% terminate employer coverage upon the reservist’s eligibility for TRICARE, the health benefits program provided by the US government to military members and their families.

The remainder (27%) allow the continuation of employer-sponsored coverage for a limited amount of time before switching to COBRA or TRICARE coverage.

Staffing Vacancies

When it comes to coping with the loss of the reservist’s services, military call-ups have created many staffing vacancies and shortages among US employers. Most (69%) have increased overtime for remaining workers or redistributed the workloads of absent employees, while others (21%) are hiring temporary workers to fill the vacancies. The remainder (10%) say they are using a combination of these approaches.

Employers are providing a range of special support services to families and work groups affected by the military call-ups. Common actions include information hotlines (19% of the responding companies), loans to reservists’ families (11%), and transportation, education, and housing assistance (6%). Other actions include support groups, care packages, and special efforts by company-sponsored employee assistance programs (EAPs) to serve the needs of military families.

The military call-ups have had virtually no effect on the executive ranks of the responding companies and minimal effect on management employees. The employee group most affected was professional/technical employees, followed by nonexempt clerical/technician and nonunion hourly employees.

USERRA protects an employee’s rights to continued benefits during a leave for military duty, to reemployment after the leave, and to full seniority and retirement plan credits or contributions upon reemployment. The law also protects individuals from discrimination in hiring, promotion, benefits, and retention on the basis of present and future membership in the uniformed services.