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Working After Military Service

Friday, March 14, 2003 at 12:34 PM

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Over 27,000 Ohioans are members of the National Guard and Reserves. Nearly 3,000 have already been called into service and the number increases almost daily. They leave behind families, jobs and friends. But military breadwinners also have to pay bills while serving their country. To make matters worse, some are bound to return from war injured and not able to do their old jobs. ideastream's Mike West explores the economic aftershocks of being called to military duty.

Most of us know of at least a couple of people who have been called into military service. So far only a relatively small number of Ohioans have shipped out. But that could change if a war with Iraq lasts months or years instead of days or weeks. Large and small companies have been checking their policy manuals to make sure they know what to do when workers ship out. One of the region’s largest employers is the Ford Motor Company. Spokeswoman Jennifer Flake says at least for now, the company is prepared.

Jennifer Flake: Throughout the entire United States, less than 2,500 of our employees are part of the military reserves and National Guard. So obviously with the work force that is many thousands of people we can fill in if that is the case that people do decide to lend the government a hand.

Large companies may not have much to worry about, but for soldiers fighting for your Uncle Sam can be devastating to the family budget. The base pay for most National Guard members is only about $19,000 a year. A big cut for most people. The fortunate employees work for companies like ford that are able to help out, but Flake says it’s only for a limited time.

Jennifer Flake: Their jobs are held for them and we offer employees both hourly and salaried who are called to active duty up to 6 months of pay differential and benefits. By that I mean that we pay their normal salary or wages minus their military pay.

Many employers have a lot of questions about compensation. Lisa Satonick is a human resource specialist for the Employers Resource Council, an organization that consults companies on personal matters.

Lisa Satonick: The biggest concern that most of the employers that have contacted us have been, do I have to pay the employee. The answer is: that the law does not require the employer to pay the employee, again that may differ if you’re a private or public employer. But the law states that the employer does not have to pay. There are those organizations that do pay their employees when they’re on military leave. For the most part what they do is pay the difference between what the employee was making and what they’re receiving on military pay, if they pay any amount at all.

By law, workers must be re-hired after they return from duty. But they have only a limited time to report back to work, which depends on how long they serve. But Satonick says it’s still possible to lose your cubicle. However, your boss has to find you something that is equal or at least similar to your old job.

Lisa Satonick: Most employers will try and find another position within the organization. If that position is available or if there is an opening somewhere else where both the skills and the education and all else matches.

But what if a worker is injured in battle. Satonick says there are laws aimed at protecting the disabled. But in some cases, the company may not be required to rehire a handicapped worker.

Lisa Satonick: So in that case, let’s say for example that an individual comes back without one leg then the employer is obviously going to look for ways in which they can accommodate the employee so that they can continue doing that job. That may or may not happen provided whether or not that causes undue hardships to the organization so there’s several things they need to look at and I always recommend the employer work with their legal council and making sure they cover everything and are providing those accommodations as need be.

Reasonable accommodations can mean installing special equipment or buying customizing machines. That may not be a problem for a large corporation. But if the expense can be labeled undue hardship that can translate into too expensive. Also, if you get a dishonorable discharge, the rehiring rules don’t need to be followed.

Retirement is another matter that is covered by the law. Returning soldiers are allowed 5 years to catch up on missed 401-k payments. Scott McHenry is a pension consultant for Moskal/Kline - he’s been getting plenty of war-related calls, he says there are many things for employers to be aware of during times of war.

Scott McHenry: It’s difficult for a small business owner who wears many hats to be up to date on all these rules, where a large corporation has a human resource department that gets paid to make sure that they are complying with all these rules. So for the small business owners it’s just important that they’re aware that this is out there and that everyone has to comply with it, all employers.

Financial protection laws are part of the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Civil Relief Act. The rules also include: allowing service people and their dependants to reduce their interest rates on loans, credit cards and mortgages to 6%. Another rule, leases and rental agreements can be terminated without penalty or a bad credit mark, and it covers family members. Also to prevent hardship, in some cases dependents can’t be kicked out of rental or leased properties while a soldier is away, and some repossessions are also against the law. Families are also taken care of by the military if a serviceperson loses their medical insurance. In Cleveland, Mike West, 90.3.

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