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Workplace flexibility discussed at forum

WASHINGTON — For many returning troops and their family members, finding a job is only half the battle. Holding onto it is a whole different fight, employment experts said.

"I think we have good data on who gets jobs but I don’t think we’ve paid nearly enough attention on what happens when they get in there, what the adjustment is like," said Shelley MacDermid, director of the Military Family Research Institute, at a forum on workplace flexibility Thursday.

"How many times do people have to reshape and reshuffle before they get settled? How many people go in smoothly versus needing some kind of adjustment? What kind of adjustment is that? I don’t think we have any of the answers to those questions yet."

The event, sponsored by Workplace Flexibility 2010, was designed to highlight difficulties military families face in looking for jobs and juggling employment responsibilities with military duties.

For reservists, that can mean leaving a private sector post for up to a year, then having to transition back to civilian life after a combat deployment. For spouses, it means juggling home and work tasks without the help of a loved one stationed overseas, which can mean changing work schedules or taking time off.

And when a servicemember gets wounded, employment issues get even more complicated, said Kelly Hruska, deputy director of government relations for the National Military Family Association. Medical and rehabilitation appointments mean time off from work not just for spouses but often for other family members, too.

"Employers need to remember that parents, aunts, uncles, and siblings are shouldering the burden of deployments as well," she said.

Recent changes in federal law have helped ease some of the problems, according to Marcy Karin, legislative counsel for Workplace Flexibility 2010.

Along with the employment protections outlined in the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, she said, recent changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act which allow time off to care for wounded troops or to deal with a spouse’s deployment have created new opportunities for military families.

Still, the panel said many reservists and military spouses still see reluctance among employers to hire them because of the potential deployments, reassignments, and demands of the military lifestyle.

The key, they said, is to not only better explain the challenges of employing a reservist military spouse but also to better emphasize the skills and perspective they bring to the workforce.

Thursday’s forum was one of six policy forums on workplace issues held over the last year by the initiative, part of Georgetown University Law Center.


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