Developing a HR policy for Reservists

Members of the armed forces reserves can be valuable employees. With key skills such as leadership, teamwork, communication, and organisation developed through their training activities and/or mobilisation, reservists are a great addition to your team.

The employment of reservists in the UK requires some specific HR policies and procedures which your organisation must put in place to ensure their equality in the workplace. 

If your business doesn't already have a reservist policy, here's a quick and easy guide to developing one. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the recruitment and employment of reservists, including links to a useful template document to get you started. 

Everything you need to know about reservists 

What are reservists?

Reservists are members of the reserve armed forces. They can have a variety of duties to the armed forces such as participating in operational deployments, helping in UK emergency situations, participating in ceremonial duties for the military, and doing outreach with young people and cadets. Unlike members of the regular army, reservists are civilians who can be called up for mobilisation. 

There are two main types of reservists. Volunteer reservists are civilians who are part of the Royal Naval Reserves, Royal Marines Reserves, Army Reserve, or Royal Auxiliary Air Force. There were around 35,850 volunteer reservists in April 2022. The other type, regular reservists, are former regular servicemen who might be mobilised depending on the length of their service in the armed forces. There are fewer of this type of reservists, with only around 3,500 regular reservists in April 2022. 

What are an employer's obligations to reservists?

There are a few obligations that employers have towards reservists to ensure the equality of their treatment. 

Firstly, under UK law, an employer cannot make a reserve forces member redundant due to their mobilisation. Terminating a reservist's employment contract because of mobilisation can result in a fine and compensation having to be paid. After their mobilisation ends, reserve members have a right to return to their job (the same job or a similar one if that original role no longer exists) after a period of leave. 

Employers do not have to allow time off (paid or unpaid) for training, although they sometimes do. On the whole, members of the reserve forces will be required for training one evening a week, several weekends throughout the year, and one 15-day 'annual camp' per year. 

How will HR find out if they are employing a reservist?

If it's in a new employee's contract that they cannot work other jobs, the employee will have to tell their employer that they are a reservist. Otherwise, the employer will receive a letter from the Ministry of Defence informing them that a new employee is a reservist within 5 weeks of their start. 

In some cases, reservists may ask the Ministry of Defence not to tell their employer that they are a member of the reserve forces. However, they need a good reason for this, such as that they think their employer knowing their reserve status would put them at a disadvantage in the workplace. 

How will HR find out that a reservist is being mobilised?

When members of the reserve forces receive a call out for service, they are usually given 28 days' notice. The employee is supposed to tell their employer as soon as possible if this happens. In some urgent cases, they might get less notice than this. If the reservist has specialist skills, they might sometimes be mobilised for shorter periods of just a few days to provide support for operations. 

What financial assistance is available for employers of reservists?

If a reserve member in your employment is mobilised, organisations can claim financial assistance. This can cover the cost of a temporary replacement (if this costs more than the reservist's salary) as well as the advertising costs and agency fees for the recruitment of a replacement employee. You can also claim up to £2,000 in training costs for the replacement. Alternatively, you can claim financial assistance to cover the overtime payments of other existing employees who cover the reservist's work. 

There's no need to continue paying the reserve member's salary or pension contributions when the reserve member receives a call out for service -- they will receive this from the Ministry of Defence instead. 

If the mobilisation of the reservist will seriously harm your business operations, employers can apply for the mobilisation to be cancelled or delayed. 

What happens when the reservist comes back?

After their period of service, the procedure is for reservists to notify their employer as soon as they know they can go back to work. This must be before the third Monday after their last day of service. Reservists get a period of leave after finishing serving and employers cannot force them to return to work during this time. Then, the employer must re-employ them as soon as possible. 

The reservist must be given the same type of job that they had before serving. They must be given a reasonable alternative if this particular job no longer exists. 

If the reservist was employed at the organisation for more than a year before they were mobilised, they must be re-employed for at least a year following their service. 

Creating your reservist HR policy

It's important to have a clearly defined HR policy for reservists. Here are some of the points that your company policy needs to include. 

Training leave

Employers do not legally have to provide additional paid or unpaid leave for reserve forces members' training throughout the year. However, granting this additional time off to reservists can show an organisation's recognition for the reserve forces' duties and indicate that employees are valued and supported even outside of the workplace. This can be beneficial to the employee's engagement, retention, and performance.  

If you decide to offer time off for reserve forces training, it's important to state this in your HR policy. Asking employees to give as much notice as possible when they need to take time off for training will help make it easier for line managers to plan ahead and schedule adequate cover. 

Mobilisation and payroll

The mobilisation of an employee means that your payroll system will need to be changed.

For reservists who will be serving for less than a year, you'll need to change their tax code (BR M1 if they're paid monthly or BR W1 if they're paid weekly), and put 'yes' in the 'irregular payment pattern indicator' in the next Full Payment Submission sent to HMRC.

If the reservist is serving for more than a year, you'll need to add a leaving date to the Full Payment Submission and provide them with a P45. When they return to their job, they'll need a new payroll ID. 

Return to work

Under the Reserve Forces Safeguarding of Employment Act 1985, the employer has to allow the reservist to return to their same job or a similar one if that role no longer exists. The reservist should be reinstated at their job within 6 weeks of their last day of full-time service but their employer cannot make them return to work before their period of leave is finished. 

Your workplace policy for reservists should lay out the procedure for reservists returning to work. You may choose to include refresher training in their return to help them re-familiarise themselves with their tasks and duties. Regular check-ins are also a good idea to ensure that the reservist is adapting well to their job and civilian lifestyle. 

You may be interested in: Demystifying the labour costs of employees 

Templates for your reservist HR policy

When creating your organisation's HR policy for reservists, we recommend taking inspiration from the Ministry of Defence's reservist HR policy template, which can be downloaded online. This document has guidelines for the notification of employers by reservists, time off for training commitments, mobilisation procedure, return to work, and more. 

To learn more about the rights and obligations surrounding reservists and their employers, read the Reserve Forces Act 1996

Simplifying reservist policies and procedures using HR software

Don't worry: implementing a reservist employment policy doesn't need to be complicated. XCD's feature-rich and flexible HR and Payroll software can do all the work for you. Easy-to-use and full of customisable features, the software is flexible enough to allow for a wide range of scenarios. 

Need to adapt payroll due to a reserve forces member being called up?

Simple. The entire XCD Payroll system is cloud-based and intuitive, meaning that with just a few clicks you can make the necessary changes from anywhere and any device. All based in one single paperless system, there's no need to waste time searching for important documents and no risk of errors while transferring data between systems. XCD Payroll is your single source of truth so you can trust that payroll will run accurately and efficiently every time. 

Struggling to manage overtime payments for other employees covering the reservists' duties while they're mobilised or in training?

No fear. XCD's time tracking and overtime feature can automate the entire process, meaning that overtime is no longer a headache. The tool even supports multiple types of overtime such as on call, fixed rates, variable rates, and variable overtime hours with associated multipliers. Linked directly to payroll, the software eliminates all the admin associated with overtime and makes sure everyone gets paid on time and correctly. 

Concerned about reservists' re-integration or performance when they return to work after being called up?

Don't worry. Using XCD's performance management module, HR can carefully track performance and schedule frequent performance reviews to ensure that the reservist is settling back into their work effectively. Using discrete contributions from the employee and their manager, the customisable performance review templates allow for continuous coaching and feedback that is tailored to the employee's needs. 

You may be interested in: Can technology boost diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Final thoughts

Alongside other policies and procedures like maternity or parental leave and bereavement leave, HR teams need a well-articulated company policy for the employment of reserve forces members. By using the above guidelines and templates as well as a powerful and flexible HR system, your HR policy for reservists can run smoothly and seamlessly. 

Interested in learning more about XCD's powerful HR and Payroll software? Book a demo today to see its capabilities for yourself.

Return to insights

More articles

How Employee Mentoring Programs Can Improve Retention and Engagement

Back to the top

Join thousands of HR and Payroll professionals and get news, thoughts and advice direct to your inbox