An increase in the number of Army Reservists in Jersey will require employers to consider what provisions they have in place for those employees, and some may face a claim for unfair dismissal if they do not hold a job open for someone on active service, says employment law specialist Colette Hunt.
Colette, a senior associate at Channel Islands law firm Collas Crill, says the issue is particularly relevant now that the British Army has announced that, although it is cutting the number of regular soldiers, is intending to increase the Reserve from 19,000 to 30,000. Islanders are currently being encouraged to join the Reserve in this, the Jersey Field Squadron recruiting week.
Depending on the form of the call up, the Reservist may be absent for just a few weeks (for example, when they assisted during the Olympics), or possibly for up to 12 months in any 3 years, or 3 years in any 6 years.
Colette said: “Accommodating such absence(s) may not have been much of an issue for local employers to date, but if there were to be a doubling in the numbers of Reservists, the potential disruption could act as more of a deterrent to employing someone who is a Reservist. Employers are generally not financially penalised because they can apply to the MOD for some assistance to cover the costs of recruiting and training an individual to do the job while the Reservist is away on operations or in rehabilitation.”
But what happens when the Reservist returns after operations? At present, the responses could range from termination of their employment through to them resuming their former job.
“In the absence of any local law or guidance, local employers could potentially find themselves having to defend a claim for unfair dismissal where they do not respond reasonably to a Reservist’s request to respond to a call out or who refuse take them back to the same job, or on the same terms and conditions. As always, larger entities might be able to absorb and accommodate the absences of a Reservist employee more easily.”
Colette added: “Currently, if a Reservist who is resident in Jersey is called up, they have no protection regarding the job they are in when the period of service commences. They depart not knowing whether they will have a job to return to.”
Employment rights for Reservists was the subject of a consultation by the Jersey Employment Forum last Autumn, ahead of the introduction of a possible Law to give local Reservists some safeguard of their position.
“At issue is balancing allowing an employee (who is potentially putting themselves at real risk of serious injury or even death) the right to return to the same job after the period of service (in the event that they are physically and mentally able to do their former role) with the challenge faced by an organisation to ensure that it is adequately staffed to meet the needs of the business, but not over staffed.”
Colette’s article Protection for Employees who are Reservists of the Armed Forces is available to download from www.collascrill.com