The last decade has seen a rise in the call-up of reservists to serve in the world's trouble spots where Britain has military and peace-keeping obligations; Afghanistan is just the latest in a long list. In this case, employer and employee rights are governed, respectively, by the Reserve Forces Act 1996 and the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985.

Employers can seek exemption from releasing a reservist and there is provision for financial assistance and compensation for the reservist's absence, including help with pension and retraining on the employee's return. But the amounts are not overly generous. For example, a standard award may be just 6% of the employee's yearly income, or £2,400 plus money to cover recurring costs. And all such assistance may be suspended by the Secretary of State in times of national danger or emergency. Employees are entitled to be reinstated on their return; and if their original post is no longer available, an alternative must be offered with similar terms and conditions. If the employer refuses, the member of staff can make an application to the Reinstatement Committee which has the power to award compensation, not unlike an employment tribunal.

Any company which employs a reservist should study their legal rights and obligations. In 2000, merchant bank Credit Suisse First Boston had to pay out a substantial undisclosed settlement to an RAF reserve officer it had sacked after he was away on active service for four months in Kosovo.

Managing Absence

Juliet Price, managing director of HR consultancy Park City Consulting, says it should come as no surprise if a reservist employee is called up; if you missed it on their CV, something's wrong with your recruitment processes!

“Absence occurs where you have no prior notice and that shouldn't apply to national duties or jury service,” says Price. “But in practice, companies don't plan for it; contingency options like hiring and training a temporary filler for the post, short-term contracts, shifting another member of staff across or expecting other employees to take on more work are left to the last minute and the wider impact on the business as a whole comes as a surprise.”