Military Leave from Work

Nick Staley
If someone came to you today and requested military leave, would you be ready to respond? Military leave doesn’t get talked about a whole lot, but it’s one of the easier forms of leave to administer. We will discuss the different types of military leave, the legal obligations you have, and how to help employees integrate into the workplace when they return.

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What Is Military Leave?

Military leave is a form of job-protected leave for those who serve in the National Guard or Reserves of any military branch. Much like other forms of leave, companies are required to provide military leave under federal regulations. When an employee returns from military leave they are entitled to return to their same job or a comparable one if that position no longer exists, their same compensation and their same benefits.

Types of Military Leave

There are two forms of military leave. They don’t have specific names, but we will give them names for the purpose of this article. No matter what type of military leave an employee goes on, the protections are the same.

Type 1: Short-term Military Leave

Short-term military leave is used when an employee needs to report to a training exercise or drill. You will see this form of leave used most frequently, as members of the National Guard report for training every few months.

Type 2: Long-term Military Leave

Long-term military leave is used when an employee gets deployed for a combat or training mission and will be gone for an extended period of time. Members of the National Guard can be deployed due to national disasters or to support military units in combat missions around the world.

No matter what type of leave an employee requests, they need to provide as much advance notice as possible. However, in the event of a natural disaster, advance notice may only be a day or even less at times.

Employers’ Obligations to Employees Requesting Military Leave From Work

This is where military leave gets slightly complicated. There isn’t necessarily anything to approve or deny in terms of military leave, since the employee is legally obligated to report to their duty station. Your main responsibility to the employee is to protect their job.

Obligation 1: Protect Their Job

As with most forms of leave, military leave is job protected, meaning you can’t terminate their employment for taking it. You may replace them if needed to maintain production, but must bring the employee back to the same or a similar job.

Obligation 2: Pay Raises

If pay raises are given to employees of the same seniority and in the same position, employees on military leave are entitled to the same pay raise.The easiest way to determine this is with a simple test: if the employee would have been given a raise had they been present, go ahead and give them that raise.

Obligation 3: Help Them Adjust Back to Work

While this isn’t required by law, it’s a very nice gesture that really doesn’t take much work on your part and is to your advantage. We will go into more depth on this in the next section.

Obligation 4: Help Their Family

Again not required by law, but another nice gesture.  Periodically check in with their family. Let them know that you are there if they need anything.  Be a piece of support for their family because their family member is part of your work family.

Helping Military Employees Return to Work

Put yourself in the employee’s shoes for a moment. You’ve just returned from a deployment, natural disaster or otherwise, and have seen immense suffering and pain. How would you individually cope with that? What support would you appreciate from your employer?

Step 1: Give Them Time

Some employees may not be ready to jump back into work full-time.  Encourage them to take their time and adjust incrementally into full-time work. Allow them time to spend with their family, whom they haven’t seen for a period of time.

Step 2: Be There for Them

As they start to come back to the office or job site, make sure you reach out and provide support. This support can be physical, mental, or emotional. This is where the human piece of Human Resources comes in. Check in to see how they are doing and ask if there are things that you can do to help with their transition back to full-time work.

Step 3: Don’t Treat Them Differently

While at the beginning it may feel like they are getting more attention than their coworkers, as time progresses, make sure you don’t act any differently towards them.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Military Leave

Do employers have to pay an employee on military leave?
It depends. Military leave, like most other forms of leave, is only job protected. You aren’t required to pay employees during military leave. The caveat to this is that if an employee works any day during the week and then is called to military duty, they qualify for their entire salary for that week.
How long can employees be on military leave?
An employee qualifies for up to five years of military leave total. This can be used for drill, training, or active duty.
Can an employee be fired for military leave?
No. That is illegal. You cannot take action against an employee for going on military leave.
Nick Staley

Nick is a certified HR professional holding an SPHR and SHRM-CP. Nick has built HR teams from the ground up as well as worked for big corporations. Nick enjoys consulting and training those who are just getting started in HR. When not working, he enjoys spending time with his family.

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