Employers play supporting role when workers deploy - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Employers play supporting role when workers deploy

Rutland, Vermont - January 6, 2010

Keyser Energy delivers coal, propane and home heating oil, but the company says its employees fuel its business. So when one of its employees learned he'd be deployed to the war zone, company president Chris Keyser had some plans to make.

"We're a small company," he said. "We have ten drivers in the middle of the winter, so losing one of them meant a lot of changes in what we were trying to do and pull it off in a timely manner without stressing everybody else out."

"There's never a doubt in our minds that there's a great sacrifice being extended by those employers," said Dave Wheel, executive director of the Vermont Committee of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a program of the U.S. Dept. of Defense. Each state has such a program that helps employers understand the rights, responsibilities, and other issues surrounding deployment.

"We're also a fairly well kept secret as far as our program," Wheel said, noting many companies are not even aware it exists.

"We first take a look at helping the employer first at the 'aha moment,' saying 'How am I going to get this job done when Johnny or Sally are gone for 12 months,'" he said. "Secondly, we want to make sure they're in compliance with federal law."

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA, states employees who leave their job for military service must return to a job comparable to the one they would have held had they continuously remained employed.

"Unfortunately, USERRA does not protect a soldier from a layoff situation," Wheel said, "because USERRA simply wants to make sure a service member receives no more or no less than anyone else in the organization."

Wheel said communication is critical between employees and employers -- both alerting a company as soon as possible when a soldier is called to duty, and when he will be available to return to work.

"We're fortunate in the state of Vermont that we have extraordinarily supportive employers," he said. "But every once in a while, though we presume good faith, we're going to have somebody that steps out of the boundaries and we want to help them so they don't violate federal law."

A third area of support is a more human side, staying in touch with employees and their families, and helping out where they can.

"Is there a service or product you can offer at a discount to these folks?" Wheel suggested. "Is there somebody watching out to make sure their driveway is shoveled during the winter and somebody is mowing the grass during the summer?"

The employee Keyser Energy expected to deploy recently learned a medical deferment would keep him home. But the company says preparations it did will make it even more ready for next time.

"We decided if it happened I was going to drive one day a week," Chris Keyser said. "Another person was going to drive another day and we were going to start lengthening the hours other people were going to work. We had some alternatives in there."

Keyser said such efforts would let employees direct their energy to their jobs in the war zone -- not their jobs back home.

For more information on Employers Support of the Guard and Reserves, or ESGR -- www.esgr.mil -- in Vermont 802-485-1824

Kate Duffy - WCAX News

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