Employers honoured for supporting reservists

Flexibility, top-ups, extra time off appreciated
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/14/2013

Col. Luis de Sousa has logged a lot of miles for the Canadian Armed Forces.

In 2011, he was deployed to Afghanistan as a staff mentor for the Afghan National Army Command and Staff College. He has also travelled to Pennsylvania for training at the United States Army War College and taken NATO courses in Germany.

But he couldn’t have done it without the support of his employer, he said.

De Sousa is not only the commanding officer of the 34th Canadian Brigade Group, he is also the Simunition product manager at General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems (GD-OTS) in Repentigny, Que. After serving 21 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, de Sousa transferred to the reserves in 2007.

“GD-OTS has a very supportive and comprehensive employment policy towards reservists,” he said. “As a reservists battalion commander and then as a brigade commander, my employer has provided me with the required support to undertake these demanding responsibilities.”

In early June, 19 organizations from across Canada were awarded for their outstanding support of Canadian Armed Forces reserve members at a ceremony in Ottawa. GD-OTS received the highest honour of Most Supportive Employer in Canada from the Canadian Forces Liaison Council (CFLC) as part of its National Employer Support Awards.

Reservists are members of the Canadian Armed Forces who serve on a part-time basis. They make up about 20 per cent of the personnel on domestic and international operations.

“They’re people you otherwise might bump into while you’re waiting for your Starbucks,” said Scott Shepherd, national chair of the CFLC, which is headquartered in Ottawa. “They’re lawyers, doctors, dentists, salesmen, journalists, accountants — you name it — these guys are all out in regular companies, but we need them because, in Canada, we have a very small army.”

Reservists may need more time off than other employees. They are required to undergo a significant amount of training and while most of it occurs on evenings and weekends, reservists typically need to take about two to three weeks off work annually to train.

If they are deployed, reservists might be on leave for several months — and it could stretch as long as 18 to 24 months, said CFLC.

To help facilitate the time off, all employers should have a military leave policy in place, said Shepherd.

“From an HR point of view, to try to do it on a stop-gap is not as easy as if you have a thoughtful policy written up that’s supported by management,” he said. “Having these policies in place with individual companies helps everyone understand it, be comfortable with it and know, corporately, it’s endorsed.”

The policy should also outline the financials. When reservists are on leave for training or deployment, they receive some funding from the federal government for their services. Some employers, including 1,400-employee GD-OTS, offer top-up pay for reservist employees. The company has a handful of reservists on staff.

The federal and all provincial and territorial governments have passed job protection legislation for reservists. While the details vary among each jurisdiction, the legislation ensures reservists can go back to their jobs after military training or deployment.

Employers can also support reservist employees by being flexible. When Julie Thomson started working at the Confederation Bridge in Prince Edward Island as a bridge patroller, she was on call and received very little advanced notice when she was required to do a shift — but that changed once her employer found out she was in the reserve force.

“We started to give as much notice as possible, plus we could maneuver things around so she could be able to attend these other functions that had to do with her work as a reservist,” said Keith Sigsworth, toll/traffic supervisor at the 38-employee Confederation Bridge in Borden-Carleton, P.E.I.

The Confederation Bridge received the Most Supportive Employer in Prince Edward Island award from CFLC.

Some employers not only support reservists but their family members as well. In 2012, Kendall McLean deployed to Afghanistan for nearly nine months and his wife’s employer, Xplornet in Fredericton, supported her in numerous ways, he said.

“To start, an email was distributed department-wide requesting all employees respect her privacy while I was deployed, to reduce the stress on her during that time,” he said. “And she was given flexibility to deal with family issues such as sick days, appointments, when dealing with our two small daughters.”

Xplornet granted McLean’s wife additional vacation to match his own leave during his deployment, and gave them one weekend away so they could reunite as a family. Xplornet received the Most Supportive Employer in New Brunswick award from CFLC.

‘Not your average employees’

Reservists are not your average employees, said Shepherd. They are independent decision-makers, they are consultative, they respect authority and they are excellent leaders, he said.

Carolyn Garrity, a reservist employed by Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ont., is a perfect example of those strong leadership skills, said Jim Madder, president at the college, which has 800 full-time staff.

“She teaches in human resources around planning, training and HR development and she’s doing that herself — she’s walking the talk. She’s bringing those skills to bear and also teaching about those skills,” he said.

The college won the Most Supportive Employer in Manitoba award. (Because the college is located in northwestern Ontario, it conducts many activities with Manitoba due to its geographic proximity.)

The training reservists receive as part of the reserve force is also beneficial to employers, said Shepherd.

“If the reservist works for a logistics company, he might be in our services group for logistics looking after trucks. All that extra training brings value back to the business,” he said. “And if we know the companies, we can try to target some of the training so the company benefits as well.”

Confederation College also uses its reservist program to attract employees, said Madder. Its job advertisements indicate the college supports reservists and their leave requirements.

Employers have a duty to support reservists, and it’s important that top employers set a good example, he said.

“It’s part of our contribution back to our communities,” said Madder. “We’re exemplars in our community and we want to show best practices and support of our community, no matter what role that is. If we’re not doing it, then maybe (other employers) don’t feel as obligated, but if we are doing it, then people will say, ‘Well, why not?’”

The list of the 19 winners can be found at article #18328.

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