If you live in a community that hosts a National Guard or Reserves post, you may end up with a service member as an employee. You may not know about it when you hire them (among other things, it is a bad idea to ask candidates if they are a member of the armed forces during hiring) and it may come up for the first time when they need leave for training or a longer deployment. Now what?
The first thing to know is that of course there are federal laws about how you handle employees who are also active members of the military, intended to let service members go on deployment secure in the knowledge that when they return, they will be able to return to their jobs and earn a living to feed their families. The primary one for employers is the USERRA (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994):
USERRA is a federal law intended to ensure that persons who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, Reserves, National Guard or other uniformed services: (1) are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service; (2) are promptly reemployed in their civilian jobs upon their return from duty; and (3) are not discriminated against in employment based on past, present, or future military service. The law is intended to encourage uniformed service so that the United States can enjoy the protection of those services, staffed by qualified people, while maintaining a balance with the needs of private and public employers who also depend on these same individuals.
The biggest impact for small businesses is that the service member is entitled to get their job back when they return. The challenge can be figuring out what that employee’s job would have been if they hadn’t gone on a long deployment, because they are entitled to any raises or seniority benefits that they would have gotten if they stayed home. As with ADA accommodation, the law allows for reasonableness: if there has been a change in business circumstances (e.g. loss of a major contract) that has eliminated the job, a business doesn’t have to create a job for the service member.
The first thing to do is to ask to see their orders, which will have the deployment period on it. There is usually an end date, so you can plan for temporary coverage of the work. Remember that the workplace can’t be hostile to their military commitment, so don’t allow other employees to harass the service member about it; luckily, in Montana most people understand military service.
Many service members are reluctant to ask for help, so if there is a problem you may need to encourage them to find help. One good resource is the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve, a program in the Dept of Defense. Service members have already demonstrated their commitment and dedication to a larger cause; they are employees worth taking care of before, during, and after their service.