As our 10th year in Hereford draws to a close and, with Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday fresh in our minds, it prompted us to look how one of HCR’s key sectors – the Defence, Security and the Forces Sector – has developed at the firm over the last 10 years. We also once again, take the opportunity to encourage employers to show their support by signing the Armed Forces Covenant and to employ members of the Armed Forces Community in their businesses. Over the course of the last 10 years, we have done both – and we have truly seen the benefits.
HCR Hereford opened its doors in March 2012 and, almost immediately, we were struck by just how large the Armed Forces Community in Herefordshire is and, perhaps more notably, how strong the Defence Sector in the county is.
Very quickly, it became clear to us that many of our clients were either in the Defence Sector, supported the Defence Sector or they knew someone in the sector – either in business or, indeed, still in the Armed Forces.
Two years later, in 2014, HCR signed the Armed Forces Covenant and, in 2019, we were awarded the Employer Recognition Scheme Gold Award by the MOD. But what is it all about? Why would businesses and employers want to sign the covenant? What are the business benefits of employing members of the Armed Forces Community? And, most importantly, what does the covenant mean for those who serve and their families?
What is the covenant?
Put simply, the covenant is a promise from the nation ensuring that those who serve or have served in the Armed Forces and their families – known generally as the Armed Forces Community – are treated fairly. By signing the covenant, a business demonstrates its commitment to supporting the Armed Forces Community by recognising the value that serving personnel, veterans, adult cadet force volunteers and military families contribute to our businesses and our communities.
With UK Service Personnel numbering almost 200,000 as at January 2022 and with the ever-evolving threats to UK interests, the utilisation of reservists in particular is set to increase in coming years. With increasing numbers leaving regular service (which increased 11.5% on the previous year in the year to December 2021), supporting our Armed Forces Community as employers, particularly in Herefordshire, remains as important as it has ever been.
In the last two years, as part of Operation Rescript (the Armed Forces response to the Covid-19 pandemic) regular and reserve personnel have:
- Supported the ambulance service
- Served in the majority of the UK’s intensive care units alongside our NHS
- Have been called up to undertake emergency Covid-19 testing at UK ports
- Have assisted with the roll out of the UK’s vaccination programme
Those same services have also been supported by the defence industry from right here in the ’shire – whether that be by making kit, delivering equipment or releasing their employees in the reserve forces to undertake active duty. It really has been a team effort across the county.
Looking ahead, we of course have the continuing war in Ukraine, the ongoing humanitarian relief efforts and, if the current spate of strikes continue, the very real possibility that the Armed Forces will once again be called up to assist and to ensure crucial services, like the NHS, can continue in the wake of the unprecedented scale of industrial action – demonstrating once again the diverse skills, adaptability and operational effectiveness of those in our Armed Forces.
What can businesses and employers do?
What a business does to demonstrate its commitment under the covenant is a commercial decision – but what is important is to actually do something! It is not just about signing, it is a commitment.
From a business perspective, it is commitment to ensuring that no member of the Armed Forces Community suffers a commercial disadvantage because of their service.
By way of example, over the last 10 years, HCR has:
- Offer guaranteed interviews to veterans and other members of the Armed Forces Community, such as military spouses, who meet the minimum selection criteria
- Recognised equivalent military skills and qualifications when interviewing for new positions
- Committed to accommodating reservist training commitments by offering additional annual leave and other support and to accommodating the mobilisation of reservists, when required to deploy
- Found alternative employment within the business in other locations when employees have been forced to relocate owing to a partner or family member’s military service
- Granted additional requests for leave before, during or after an employee’s partner or family member has been deployed overseas
- Offered discounts of up to 20% off all legal services to serving members of the Armed Forces and veterans
- Delivered pro-bono resettlement and business skills training to serving members of the Armed Forces as they transition into civilian life
- Established the Three Counties Defence and Security Group and the Three Counties Defence and Security Expo, to provide a forum for members of the defence industry to collaborate, network and do business, with the MOD, US DEVCOM and each other and to allow members of the Armed Forces to meet with industry, in order to explore opportunities in business, at the end of their service.
Why would businesses sign the covenant?
The business benefits of supporting and, in particular, employing members of the Armed Forces Community are numerous.
Former service personnel have a raft of transferable skills acquired as a result of their military service. The Armed Forces expect high standards of professionalism, behaviour, self-discipline and selfless commitment of all serving personnel, together with expert ability in their chosen field. The standard of training given to military personnel across all three services is second to none, whether that be trade training for specific disciplines or leadership and management training which is required of all but the most junior ranks.
Military families are adaptable, resourceful and resilient. They have to forge relationships in the most unlikely circumstances, often in fast changing environments and that often results in great people skills, determination, commitment and self-confidence.
Also, let’s not forget, a great many veterans and service spouses are highly qualified to boot!
The legal bit
The Armed Forces Community does not have a legal definition, nor does being a member of the Armed Forces Community confer any legal rights – except, that is, for reservists. As such, the obligations on employers towards most members of the Armed Forces Community and Veterans in particular, are the same as those which are owed to any other employee.
With regard to reservists, in the absence of a contractual obligation to do so, reservists are not under any obligation to tell their employer that they are a member of the reserve forces.
Employers are under no obligation to allow an employee time off, paid or otherwise, for reservist training or mobilisation. However, under the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985, employers are under an obligation to re-instate any employee who was employed in the four weeks prior to their mobilisation on terms that are no less favourable than those which would have applied had the employee not been mobilised, where it is reasonable and practicable to do so.
If not, employers must offer the most favourable terms practicable. Either way, reinstatement is a must, for a minimum protected period, at least.
The period of mobilisation does not count for the purpose of calculating the employee’s continuous service under the Employment Rights Act 1996. However, the mobilisation period does not break continuous service and instead simply “stops the clock”.
Finally, Section 48 of the Defence Reform Act 2014 removed the two-year qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims where the reason – or, if more than one, the principal reason – for the dismissal is, or is connected with, the employee’s membership of a reserve force.
In our experience, employers, particularly those with members of the Armed Forces Community already within their business, or those looking to benefits from the many skills the Armed Forces Community bring, would be well advised to sign the Armed Forces Covenant. More importantly, however, they need to follow through and deliver on the commitments they make having done so!
It is only by taking action under the covenant, not simply by signing it, that we can ensure that a mutually beneficial relationship between the Armed Forces Community and commerce can be created.
With Veterans, serving personnel and military spouses amongst our ranks and our client base, we know first-hand that employing members of the Armed Forces Community and delivering on your commitments under the Armed Forces Covenant makes business sense.