Three Tulsa-based employers have been named semifinalists for the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award for exceptional backing of their employees serving in the National Guard and Reserve.
QuikTrip, the Tulsa Police Department and GWACS Defense Inc., a developer of sniper-busting technology, are among 133 semifinalists chosen from 3,236 nominees nationwide.
The employers have distinguished themselves by going above and beyond what the law requires, said Tom DeSpain, Oklahoma state chair of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. “Support of employees is crucial emotionally,” DeSpain said, “If they're worried about their jobs, how are they going to perform on training and combat rounds?”
Guard and Reserve members, or their family members, nominate their employers for the Freedom Award. This year's 30 finalists will be announced in May, and 15 winners will be recognized on Sept. 20 in Washington, D.C.
QuikTrip provides the difference between military and civilian salary during deployments, spokesman Mike Thornbrugh said. Among its estimated 12,000 employees across 11 states, 81 are members of the Guard or Reserve, he said.
Of Tulsa Police Department's estimated 780 employees, about 50 are guardsmen or reservists including one brigadier general, Chief Chuck Jordan said.
“We're proud of those numbers,” he said. “Our citizen soldiers are now our main battle group, and fighting wars for us.”
Among other support, the police department provides full benefits to employees fulfilling their military obligations, and reinstatement to special assignments “so employees don't miss a step,” Jordan said.
Upon their return, solders receive a departmental memo, thanking them for their service.
“That sounds small,” he said, “but I'm a Vietnam vet, and we didn't have that welcome-back embrace from the nation when we returned.”
Federal law entitles permanent employees who are called to active duty to return to similar positions they left. Though total absences are limited to five years, deployed workers are due any pay hikes or additional benefits they would have received if employment was continuous.
Exceptions to the law include a company's reductions in force that would have included employees on military leave, and employers who would have to create a useless job to re-employ reservists, said Nathan Whatley, a labor and employment attorney with McAfee & Taft law firm in Oklahoma City.
“However, an employee's position is not unavailable simply because it is occupied by another employee,” he said.
Most employers seem to be aware of their obligations and ready to comply,” Whatley said. “But as more troops return ... we still may see an uptick in reported problems.”
Did you know?
Since 1996, three Oklahoma companies have been presented with the Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, including Oklahoma's Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group Inc., Charles Machine Works Inc. and the Choctaw Nation.