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Research Questions

  1. How has the context for employer support for RC members changed over the past decade?
  2. What are employers' perspectives on the benefits and costs of employing RC members?
  3. What are RC members' perspectives on balancing civilian and military careers?
  4. How could DoD better support both employers in fulfilling their obligations under USERRA and RC members in balancing military and civilian careers?

Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. reserve component (RC) members have served in operational missions worldwide. Duty-related absences from their civilian jobs can create frustration and challenges for both the RC members and their employers. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects RC members against employment discrimination and provides them with reemployment rights after a duty-related absence. In a 2013 study, RAND researchers concluded that there was no need for major revisions to USERRA, that its provisions were clear and generally consistent with other employment laws, and that the challenges reported by employers stemmed largely from RC activation and utilization policy as opposed to the law's employment and reemployment protections.

In this report, RAND researchers update and extend that earlier study to document the views of employers and reevaluate Department of Defense (DoD) policy, federal legislation, and state legislation protecting National Guard service under state orders. For this study, the researchers integrated the results of a multimethod approach that included a review of research and policy; interviews with subject-matter experts and RC members; and analysis of data from the Status of Forces Survey of Reserve Component Members, DoD administrative personnel data, and the 2022 DoD National Survey of Employers that was fielded for this study.

Key Findings

Employer support for RC members and their military duty remains strong

  • Employers are satisfied with their RC employees overall and agree that the advantages of employing RC members outweigh the disadvantages.
  • Employers reported minimal difficulties with implementing USERRA provisions.

RC member perspective is overall favorable, but some indicators suggest that RC members are experiencing difficulties

  • Sizable minorities of RC members report more stress than usual in their military and/or personal life.
  • When challenges arise, they tend to be related to opportunities advancement, conflicts with supervisors or employers, and the added stress of balancing two workloads.

Some friction points in the RC employment relationship have surfaced

  • Small private firms and local government employers and RC members in more senior ranks might face greater absence-related challenges.
  • Employers expressed a need for access to timely duty-related information to effectively plan for and respond to an absence.

There are critical awareness and information gaps related to RC members' dual careers

  • Many employers do not know which of their employees are serving in the RC.
  • Some employers were not aware of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR).
  • Employers face challenges identifying DoD points of contact who can answer practical, duty-related questions when an RC member is activated.
  • Communication among employers, RC members, and DoD hinges on the RC member: When communication is insufficient, it can leave employers frustrated, with little idea of where to turn.

Recommendations

  • DoD should make it easier for RC employers to obtain information and communicate with DoD about duty-related issues, such as by (1) establishing clear and accessible points of contact at the component level to complement ESGR and (2) establishing an information navigator program or portal for RC employers.
  • DoD should support RC members in managing their military and civilian careers by (1) enhancing RC member–facing resources so that these resources also provide support to promote career balance proactively and (2) improving communication between military units and civilian employers about duty-related information.
  • The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) should improve data and data systems for RC personnel management by (1) engaging DoD's Office of People Analytics to ensure that the Status of Forces Survey of Reserve Component Members captures the data that DoD needs to understand and monitor RC civilian employment issues and (2) complementing the fielding of the National Survey of Employers with more-frequent pulse surveys.
  • OSD should periodically reevaluate factors affecting the nature and extent of civilian employer support, such as by (1) monitoring the relationship between RC and active component operations, employer support, and friction points and (2) examining more deeply RC members' perspectives on their dual careers to better support career balance.

This research was sponsored by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Integration and conducted within the Personnel, Readiness, and Health Program of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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