Program allows employers to support servicemembers

by Jennifer S. Frank and Danielle M. Kerr

This article focuses on the National Guard’s Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve Program (ESGRP), explaining how employers can support the employment of National Guard and reserve members and how they can manage laws governing the employment of military personnel. young man with split careers businessman and soldier

National Guard and reserves

The National Guard and reserves make up the reserve components of the U.S. armed forces and are composed of seven branches: (1) the Army National Guard, (2) the Army Reserve, (3) the Air National Guard, (4) the Air Force Reserve, (5) the Marine Corps Reserve, (6) the Navy Reserve, and (7) the Coast Guard Reserve.

National Guard and reserve members hold full-time civilian employment while serving part-time in the military. Thus, employers may have questions regarding the hiring or retention of servicemembers. The ESGRP is here to help with those questions.

ESGRP

The ESGRP, a U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) program, was established in 1972. It is a volunteer-led organization that works to promote cooperation and understanding between reserve component servicemembers and their civilian employers and to develop and promote a supportive work environment for those employees. It also assists in resolving conflicts arising from employees’ military commitments. The ESGRP is separate from the National Guard Employment Support Program.

The ESGRP has four main functions:

  1. Advocate on behalf of reserve members to assist them in gaining employment and to encourage employers to hire reserve members;
  2. Recognize employers that support the employment of Guard and reserve members through annual awards;
  3. Provide employers information and training on the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which governs the employment of reserve members; and
  4. Provide trained ombudsmen to mediate misunderstandings between reserve component members and employers that arise because of military service.

Seek to understand military culture

Because the military has its own culture, National Guard and reserve members may have difficulty transitioning from the military to civilian employment. As a result, employers must be informed about the military’s culture and what transitioning to civilian culture is like in order to help servicemembers integrate into civilian employment. Employers that cultivate a military-informed culture in their workplace can help identify, understand, and address the challenges of transitioning from military service to civilian employment.

Embracing a military-informed culture may include developing a plan to integrate servicemembers into civilian employment, implementing mindful activities that support all phases of the transition, and providing solutions to issues that arise during the transition from military service to civilian employment.

ESGRP employer outreach and awards

To help employers learn about the military, the ESGRP provides educational programs that allow employers to gain insight into military culture and training. For example, the Bosslift program allows employers to travel to military personnel training sites in order to acquire an understanding of the military and its training requirements. When employers get to witness the training of servicemembers, they develop an appreciation for military service and are more likely to promote the employment of servicemembers. Further, employers get to witness firsthand how military training includes teaching leadership skills, responsibility, and professional growth, which can help a servicemember in civilian employment.

South Dakota hosts Bosslift at the Golden Coyote training exercise held in the Black Hills every summer. During the two-day event, employers see Ellsworth Air Force Base operations, including taking a static B-1 bomber tour, witnessing explosive ordnance disposal, and observing military working dogs. On the second day, employers experience field training at West Camp Rapid, including a leadership reaction course, life-saving measures and medical evacuations, H.E.A.T. training (egressing from an upside-down Humvee), a virtual convoy operations trainer, and a firearms training simulator (i.e., shooting various weapons systems).

The ESGRP recognizes employers for their support of National Guard and reserve members:

  • The Patriot Award honors managers and supervisors for their support of reserve members.
  • The Above and Beyond Award recognizes employers at the state level that have gone above and beyond the legal requirements of USERRA. Nominees’ pay policies, vacation and sick leave policies, benefits, hiring preferences, servicemember support and recognition programs, and servicemember family support programs are considered as part of the award.
  • The Pro Patria Award is the highest state-level award presented annually to one employer that provides exceptional support to National Guard and reserve members through leadership practices and personnel policies.
  • Finally, the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award is the highest recognition given by the DOD to employers. It is given to recognize employers’ outstanding support of employees who serve in the reserve components. Each year, a national selection board selects up to 15 employers to receive the prestigious award.

Employer statement of support

The ESGRP’s Statement of Support Program attempts to increase employer support for the National Guard and reserves by encouraging employers to act as advocates for employee participation in the military. The program began in 1972 and now has hundreds of thousands of employers proclaiming their support for the National Guard and reserves.

Employers that sign a statement of support agree to honor the following commitments to servicemembers:

  • Fully recognize, honor, and enforce USERRA;
  • Provide managers and supervisors with the tools they need to effectively manage employees who serve in the National Guard and reserves;
  • Appreciate the values, leadership, and unique skills servicemembers bring to the workforce, and encourage opportunities to employ guard members, reservists, and veterans; and
  • Continually recognize and support servicemembers and their families in peace, crisis, and war.

To request a statement of support, visit www.ESGR/Employers/Statement-of-Support.

Becoming an ESGRP volunteer

Because the ESGRP is volunteer-led, every volunteer counts. South Dakota’s ESGRP committee currently has 38 volunteers. In 2016, volunteers totaled 4,064 volunteer hours, equaling $106,214.28 in savings. Volunteer activities can involve several aspects of the ESGRP. Employer outreach develops relationships with employers to promote advocacy for Guard and reserve members. Public affairs collaborates with military and civilian media organizations to encourage public understanding of the ESGRP’s mission. Military outreach informs and educates servicemembers of their rights and responsibilities under USERRA. Ombudsmen work with employers and servicemembers to prevent, reduce, or resolve misunderstandings regarding employment rights and responsibilities under USERRA. They provide information, counseling, and mediation to resolve disputes between civilian employers and employees serving in the National Guard or reserves.

South Dakota’s ESGRP committee provides free 90-minute training programs on USERRA for HR managers and supervisors. Major Lona Christensen, South Dakota’s ESGRP program director, states, “By participating [in the training], employers see a reduction in employment USERRA issues. The key to resolving those issues is to communicate, communicate, communicate.”

For further information on ESGR and its USERRA training, you may contact:

Lona M. Christensen, Major, SDNG Program Director, South Dakota ESGR Office phone: 605-737-6540 lona.m.christensen.mil@mail.mil.

Bottom line

Employers recognize the strengths, leadership skills, and other great qualities National Guard and reserve members bring to the workplace every day. With the great resources provided by the ESGRP, employers are able to better understand the particular needs of military servicemembers, understand their rights and responsibilities under the law, provide support to servicemembers, and gain valuable training and recognition along the way. South Dakota employers are in a great position to succeed with servicemembers in the workplace!

Jennifer Suich Frank is an attorney with Lynn, Jackson, Shultz & Lebrun, P.C., practicing in the firm’s Rapid City, South Dakota, office. She may be contacted at jfrank@lynnjackson.com.

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Danielle M. Kerr is a summer associate inĀ Lynn, Jackson, Shultz & Lebrun’s Sioux Falls office. She anticipates graduating from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2018.

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