Reserving the right to work

Government must consider employment law implications of ramping up the role of armed forces reservists

The role of armed forces reservists is changing. They are set to be deployed on active service more often as a result of a scaleback of full-time service men and women.

This will affect law firms that count reservists among their staff. How firms cope with their more frequent absences and how the individuals’ career prospects are preserved are issues being considered.

The Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) Green Paper, ‘Future Reserves 2020: Delivering the Nation’s Security Together’ set out the proposals to increase reservist numbers. The Employment Lawyers Association, whose members represent both employers and employees, looked at the employment law implications and found a number of issues the Government needs to give further thought to if its objectives are to be met.

First, the right to unpaid time off should be extended to reservists. Currently, reservists can only have paid or unpaid time off work to undertake training with the forces with their employer’s agreement.

The Working Time Regulations should be amended to clarify that a worker is permitted to use part of their daily or weekly rest periods

to undertake evening or weekend mandatory MoD training.

Reservists should be protected from being disadvantaged by legislation to prevent discrimination at the point of recruitment; they could be given the right not to suffer a detriment on similar terms to those who are absent from work to undertake jury service. They could also be given a right to time off similar to that of employees who are school governors and local councillors.

Reservists could be granted continuity of employment during mobilised service and there could be increased compensation available under the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985 to deter employers from flouting this legislation.

There should also be support for employers to limit any impact caused by the absence of reservist employees. Currently, the cap on financial assistance employers can claim from the MoD is £110 per day, normally paid monthly in arrears. Employers can also claim financial assistance to cover costs associated with recruiting a temporary replacement or retraining the reservist upon return to work, although anecdotal evidence from employers suggests the process for bringing such claims is cumbersome.

Employers, particularly medium-sized ones, may find it difficult to manage the sudden loss of a staff member. Therefore, the Government should consider simplifying the process of claiming financial assistance and giving more notice of mobilisation where possible.

We hope the Government takes on board our concerns. If not there is a real danger that it might alienate employers and employees which, in turn, could lead to it not meeting its objective of integrating reservists into the armed forces.

McFarlane chaired the Employment Lawyers Association working party which responded to the Government’s Reserves consultation