5 tips for talking to your civilian employer, landlord, and others when you’re called to active duty

It can be hard to balance your civilian obligations with the demands and unpredictability of your Guard or Reserve duties. This is especially true when you’re called up unexpectedly or on short notice and need to plan for a potentially long absence from your civilian life. These separations can bring emotional challenges such as saying goodbye to family, friends, and loved ones. In addition, you might face logistical challenges such as missing work, breaking a lease agreement, or dealing with other legal and financial issues.

It can be tough and maybe even uncomfortable to approach your landlord or employer to discuss what your time away will mean in terms of your commitments to them too. Use these strategies to help conversations—and your transition—go more smoothly.

 

  1. Know your rights, your obligations, and how to navigate them effectively.

    There are several federal laws that have been enacted in order to protect Military Service Members who need to leave jobs, break lease agreements (including housing or car leases), or end service contracts (such as a cell phone contract) due to their service. It’s important for you to know some of your basic protections and what criteria you need to meet in order to qualify for those safeguards.

    While knowing this legal information might help you feel more confident in approaching a conversation, it’s still important to use your communication “start-up” skills to help things go more smoothly. Focus on a gentle approach that fosters collaboration and planning for your departure, rather than presenting strong legal arguments which might quickly turn the conversation sour.


    For example, when approaching your employer, try saying, “As you know, I’m a member of the Reserves and I’ve just received orders for duty. Can we meet to talk about planning for my departure and how my responsibilities here can be managed in my absence?”


    Then, as needed, refer to the following federal laws:

    The full ins and outs of your legal protections can be very complex, so be sure to use your legal resources and consult with the nearest legal assistance office for help. Still, if you encounter some trouble, it’s important to keep your communication collaborative and non-combative.


    For example, if you encounter some pushback from your landlord, try saying, “It seems there’s a miscommunication about the regulations that enable me to break this lease. I’m happy to share these resources that outline my rights.”


  2. Be open and transparent.

    It’s important that you notify your employer, landlord, or others of your orders in a timely fashion. Not only are authenticity and transparency good relationship skills, but they’re also part of the requirements laid out in SCRA and USERRA. When possible, try to have these types of discussions in person. Face-to-face conversations allow you to read each other’s tone and body language, which can help to avoid miscommunications and maintain your working relationship.

    Consider disclosing that you’re a Military Service Member early on. Discuss what that means in terms of drills, training schedules, and other departures before an issue arises or you receive orders. Keep in mind that under USERRA, employers can’t discriminate in hiring you based on your military obligations.

  3. Have a two-way conversation.

    At work, come prepared to discuss the transfer of your responsibilities while you’re away. By thinking ahead, you’ll show commitment to your job, even though your service duties are in play. Be open to brainstorming together and use the time ahead of your departure to make the transition smoother.

    Try to validate any concerns or reactions from your employer, landlord, or others too. Although there might be stresses and concerns on your plate as you prepare to leave, keep in mind that others also might experience financial hardship or stress as a result of your absence. Make sure to acknowledge any concerns, particularly if their initial reaction isn’t what you expect.


    Try saying something like, “I understand my departure will have some impacts on your workload. And I’m open to spending some time figuring out a plan that will make the transition easier.”


  4. Keep a written record.

    It’s a good practice to follow up any conversations with an email or letter that summarizes what you discussed. This will help everyone stay on the same page and have a record in case you need to refer to it later on.


    You might write, “In follow-up to our conversation on [date], I wanted to provide a summary of what we discussed regarding my upcoming absence due to military service.” 


    Or use form letters or other templates as a guide.

  5. Be prepared with additional resources (if they ask).

    It’s possible that some civilians might not have as much knowledge about the military (and the related regulations) as you do. If they want to learn more about policies, be prepared to share information on USERRA and SCRA. Consider providing some of the following resources as well.

Resources

Carrère, S., & Gottman, J. M. (1999). Predicting divorce among newlyweds from the first three minutes of a marital conflict discussion. Family Process, 38(3), 293–301. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.1999.00293.x

Figinski, T. F. (2016). The effect of potential activations on the employment of Military Reservists: Evidence from a field experiment. ILR Review, 70(4), 1037–1056. doi:10.1177/0019793916679601

Friedman, R. A., & Currall, S. C. (2016). Conflict escalation: Dispute exacerbating elements of e-mail communication. Human Relations, 56(11), 1325–1347. doi:10.1177/00187267035611003

Tidwell, G. L., Rice, D. A., & Kropkowski, G. (2009). Employer and employee obligations and rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. Business Horizons, 52(3), 243–250. doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2009.01.003