My Best Employee is Being Deployed

American Flag Today’s Hair on Fire concerns the real and understandable panic every manager feels when the best performer on the team needs to take leave from work.

Hi Kelly,

I’m in a bind. I manage a small team of investment recovery professionals. We take things the company owns and try to sell them to other people to recover some of the value still left in them. We’re like highly paid junk traders, and the company values the money we bring in, especially since they’ve been on a rampage to cut costs and bring in more revenue. In the past year, we’ve had about one and a half times the amount of work we can handle.

One of my best performers serves in the U.S. Army Reserves. I really respect him and appreciate his service, but at the same time it’s throwing a monkey wrench into our team’s work planning, because he just found out he is being deployed overseas. I’m used to dealing with the drill weekends and things like that, where he would miss a day here and there, but now he’s supposed to be gone for several months and, to be honest, I’m freaking out about it!

We’re barely keeping on top of the work as it is, and being one employee down for the next few months is going to make it impossible for us to even stay afloat, much less be successful. When I mentioned it to my manager, she said that I needed to figure it out, because there wasn’t any way we could add to headcount, and she didn’t think it would go over well if we didn’t keep delivering the revenue we’ve been bringing in.

I’m between a rock and a hard place. What should I do?


Hey, Mike! Even though I’m betting you knew this was a possibility all along, I’m sure it’s a shock to be told that one of your team superstars will be completely unavailable for several months. Let’s start with the “musts” and then we will move on to the “shoulds.”

Here are the requirements:

  • Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA, if your team member:
    • Has five years or less of cumulative military service
    • Notifies you in advance of his service verbally or in writing
    • Isn’t discharged for a disqualifying reason
    • Applies for reemployment in a timely manner after conclusion of service
  • Then you must:
    • Restore your team member to the job and benefits that he would have been entitled to if he hadn’t been called away for military service, or in some cases, provide a comparable job instead
    • Refrain from discriminating and/or retaliating against your team member in initial employment, retention, promotion, benefits or reemployment
    • Provide the opportunity for your team member and his dependents to continue health insurance coverage for up to 24 months
    • Allow your team member reinstatement of coverage, regardless of continuation, without a waiting period or preexisting condition exclusion, except as relates to military-service related conditions.

Now that we know what the company must do, let’s talk about how you should handle the situation:

  • Make it clear: be sure that your manager and the leadership of your company understand the responsibility of the company to comply with USERRA. HR can help you with this, and the Department of Labor has developed a USERRA compliance guide.
  • Be creative: find out what kinds of temporary staff arrangements have been used by your company in the past, and review your team’s work to see if more administrative tasks can be consolidated and performed by a temp worker. Look at the cost and go to your leadership with a game plan for handling gap while your valued employee is serving. This article has some great tips on planning for a key employee’s military deployment.
  • Express support: since you know that you must provide these benefits to your employee, why not embrace and celebrate his service? Your team may surprise you by working harder to support their teammate, if you have done your job in troubleshooting the gaps during his absence and providing additional resources. Portray this as an opportunity and be proud of your team when they step up to keep up the great results your company is relying on them to achieve. The VA has some great resources on supporting your employees during deployment. Another fantastic resource is the Veteran Employment Services Office website.
  • Celebrate his return: be sure to plan for reentry when your employee returns from his deployment. It will help your team adjust, and assist with his transition too. Here are some resources to help your employee transition back to work after returning from deployment.

Approach this challenge as an opportunity, Mike! Appreciate and support your deploying team member, while giving the rest of your team the opportunity to step up and shine!

Best of luck,


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Photo credit: robert.claypool via / CC BY