When Johnny comes marching home

In this edition of In the Trenches, Acme tries to outmaneuver the Army.

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Jerry Kahn was the senior security officer at Acme’s precious metal processing facility located a few miles from the company’s mining operations in the Rockies. He was a 34-year-old, no-nonsense kind of guy. This attitude could be attributed to being a veteran officer in the Army Reserve who participated in military training exercises that occurred throughout the year. In each case, Jerry notified Anne Emmony in Acme’s HR department of the dates he’d be off from work.

While on active duty last fall, Jerry and a few members of his military team were injured in an accident during a particularly hazardous training exercise. The Army extended his deployment to cover the prolonged out-of-state hospital stay and nearly two months of physical rehab the injury required. As soon as he was able, he contacted Anne from his hospital bed and was informed that he’d need to file an Acme form to request unpaid leave.

When the Army released him from active duty, Jerry still experienced some difficulty walking, had limited range of motion in one shoulder, and couldn’t stand or sit very long. He told Anne about his upcoming discharge before returning home to request reemployment with Acme’s security department and to give Anne the medical documentation that confirmed his physical limitations.

Anne told Jerry that his physician would need to submit an ADA accommodation information form. Because there were no forms in the office, Anne promised to send him one at home.

But Anne delayed sending the form for several weeks. When Jerry received it, he gave it to his doctor to complete and send directly to Acme.

The number of reservist in an organization might be important only if too many are out at the same time.

A few weeks later, Jerry contacted Anne, who told him the doctor never sent the form. Jerry repeated the exercise, despite the doctor’s insistence that he sent the first form as requested. Jerry tried to meet with Anne to get things straightened out, but Anne kept postponing the meeting.

When the meeting finally took place, Anne was accompanied by Acme’s risk management consultant. After half an hour of discussion, Anne offered Jerry an entry-level position in the security department with no supervisory duties at about half the pay he received before the accident. Jerry refused the deal, and Anne suggested he apply for a junior security officer position at a pay rate slightly below his former rate, providing he was the chosen candidate following a competitive interview process.

Jerry applied, was interviewed and selected for the junior job. Two weeks after he accepted the junior position, Jerry filed a complaint against Acme under USERRA with the Veterans’ Employment and Training Services at the U.S. Department of Labor.

How could this situation have been avoided? Should employers be wary of hiring military reservists? Should Jerry be grateful that he has a job in this economy? Is Acme showing insufficient respect for the military? What should an employer do when faced with a disabled veteran who seeks reemployment?

A plant engineer says:

This is a terrible situation made worse by an HR associate who isn’t doing her best. Not knowing if Jerry’s difficulties would be long-term or not makes this a more difficult situation. Anne should have been on top of this from the first call she received from Jerry. HR “lives” by forms and it would seem to me that Anne could have gone the extra mile to find out from Jerry where his forms were when she didn’t receive them in a timely manner. Then, the delay in sending the necessary forms seems to indicate that maybe Anne should be offered a “junior position.”

What’s important here isn’t the delay in forms being sent but whether Jerry could perform his duties as a security supervisor with the disabilities he had as a result of his training accident. It would appear that because he could perform the duties of a “junior” security officer, that he might be able to perform the duties of the senior security officer. If that’s the case, then shame on Acme and Anne.

I don’t believe employers should be wary of hiring military reservists. The number of reservists in an organization might be important only if too many are out at the same time. I believe Acme (through the action and non-action of Anne) has shown disrespect for the role military reservists play in our country. Respect for a wounded soldier would have dictated better follow-up and response to the necessary forms.

When faced with a disabled veteran who seeks reemployment, a company should try to accommodate them if possible. In this case, we don’t know if it was possible for Jerry to perform his duties as a Senior Security Supervisor or not.

Jeffrey L. Strasser
Bacova Guild
(540) 863-2656
Strasser.Jeff@bacova.com

An academician says:

The USERRA requirements are quite specific and basically say that the company should make “reasonable efforts” to return the veteran to the job they had left, and if that’s not possible, to offer the veteran a job that is the nearest approximation in terms of seniority, status and pay. There are several caveats to this general statement, the most important being whether the veteran is able to perform the duties of the previous job or the job with the “nearest approximation.”

As to the Acme situation, Anne should have gotten right on it after Jerry was released and gotten the forms to Jerry. She could have contacted the physician directly, or as some companies do, sent Jerry to be evaluated by Acme’s physician. Not all physicians are expert at assessing what the returning worker can or can’t do, and finding one that is competent in that area might be very useful. Some companies also have tests that they administer to assess job competency for specific positions.

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