Soldiers Returning Home from War to Lower Pay
Despite laws guaranteeing military personnel that their civilian jobs will be there for them when they come home from war, the reality in many cases is different.
Michael Serricchio was an up-and-coming stockbroker, tending $250 million worth of accounts in Connecticut and earning $200,000 a year in salary and commissions. He was also a sergeant in the Air Force Reserve. Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, his unit was called up and he began a two-year deployment that included a stint in Saudi Arabia. When he came back, his company had merged, his clients had been parceled out and there seemed to be no place for him at the newly constituted office of Wachovia Securities.
Mr. Serricchio said he tried for more than three months to return to work, and when he finally was given a new assignment, it was making cold calls for a $2,000-a-month draw on commission. “It’s not like I was in jail,” said Mr. Serricchio, 33, a reservist for 11 years and father of a 3-year-old girl. “You feel you should have something. You feel everything should be frozen in time while you’re gone.”
Wachovia will not comment on Mr. Serricchio’s version of the events, saying that employee matters are confidential and that this complaint could end up in the courts. But the case of Mr. Serricchio points up another of the many complexities involved in fighting a war with a large contingent of National Guard soldiers and reservists – part-time soldiers who must disrupt their lives to fulfill their military obligation and fill the ranks.
Even for those who return home from service unharmed, healthy and fully ready to pick up their lives where they left off, re-emerging as a civilian can be tricky. For workers like Mr. Serricchio, it can be even more complicated, according to people familiar with the military and workplace issues.
A 1994 law, the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, commonly referred to as Userra, protects against losing a job because of military service. Even so, last year the Department of Defense handled 6,242 cases involving claims of job discrimination, job placement or inadequate pay or vacation, according to Maj. Robert Palmer of the Air Force, the spokesman for the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, one of two federal agencies that deal with employment complaints.
The agency could not provide a breakdown of complaints by profession nor an exact accounting of how the complaints were resolved. “These are complex issues,” Major Palmer said. “Sometimes the Guard and reservists have an unreal expectation of what they are due, and some employers don’t know what they’re supposed to do.”
The issue becomes even more complicated when it comes to those who step off the corporate ladder for a tour of duty. And there are many of those reservists and guardsmen, the Pentagon says. Of the 500,000 reservists and guardsmen called up in the last four years, about one-third are in professional careers.
Many are people who leave behind clients and patients and accounts. In their absence, certifications can lapse, clients and patients can migrate elsewhere and sales territories can be poached. “I’ve heard stories of attorneys in big law firms who are deployed and when they return” their clients have been given to another lawyer, said Kevin P. Flood, a retired Navy lawyer. “The problem is out there, but I don’t know how Userra can prevent what happens when you have people in partnerships or senior management experiencing difficulties.”
This is something that simply should not happen. Clearly, the law is written to prevent people being punished for serving their country.
It is not at all clear, though, how the law can deal with simple facts of economics. If a business goes under while a soldier is deployed, they obviously can’t hire him back when he returns. If the stock market crashes, it’s not like the company can travel back in time. In many of these cases, the person’s economic loss would have happened regardless of the deployment.