What To Do if Your Employee Is Conscripted?
4 Minute Read
4 Minute Read

The media love to get readers wound up don’t they? This week it has been conscription that has been the water cooler topic of choice, despite the Ministry of Defence confirming that the idea (currently) is ‘nonsense’. Reiterating that mobilising volunteers is a very different concept from conscription.  

That said, sensible commentary does nothing to calm the flood of Tiktokers taking the opportunity to satire the workforce with particularly barbed skits showing generations of dressing gowned millennials and Gen Z asking for a day off from ‘war’ for a wellbeing day or because of workplace anxiety.  

Let’s take the worst case for a second and consider what conscription could look like for employers (if there were any left to worry about employment issues having not been called up themselves of course…..) 

What could conscription look like for employers?

The closest comparator we have is the Territorial Army, now known as the Army Reserve. The last time we had conscription was in January 1949 when men between the ages of 17 and 21 had to serve in one of the armed forces for an 18 month period. It was discontinued in 1960, which means it pre-dates our modern employment laws.  

If an employee is a member of the Army Reserve, employers do have certain rights if they are called up for service (or mobilised). Reservists cannot be made redundant due to training or if they are mobilised and they must be treated the same as other employees if there is a redundancy situation. 

If an employee signs up as an Army Reservist, an employer will usually get a Ministry of Defence letter within 5 weeks, though employees can apply to the MOD for their enlistment to be kept secret if they feel they will be treated negatively as a result.  

If a reservist is called up, normally 28 days’ notice is given, though it could be less if they are needed urgently. At this point, the employer is sent a pack setting out their rights and responsibilities. Employers can claim the cost of a temporary replacement up to £110 per day, as well as the advertising costs and agency fees for finding a replacement, money towards clothing and training costs and overtime costs, as well as the training the reservist may need when they return.  

There are some additional payments small/medium businesses can claim as incentive payments. You can’t however claim for loss of profits or the reservists’ salary or pension if you continue to pay them. It is not compulsory to continue to pay an employee whilst they have been mobilised.   

An employer can apply to delay or cancel mobilisation if it will seriously harm the business. 

It is relatively unusual to come across Army Reservists. There are 27,570 reservists currently and 32.9 million people in employment, which means they represent roughly 0.08% of the workforce, so employment issues are extremely rare in this area. Between the end of WW2 and when conscription was disbanded, 2 million men took part in National Service, and therefore would still represent a very small portion of the workforce, though a little-known fact (as we often think about men when talking about conscription), the criteria was widened in 1941 to include women and if the UK were to follow Norway and Sweden, men and women would be conscripted on the same formal conditions and as of 2018 all roles in the Armed Forces are open to women (there used to be a ban on women engaging in ground close combat).  

If conscription were, therefore, to be reintroduced, you can therefore assume that it would affect men and women equally, though in the modern world, you could expect provision to be made where both parents are called up, for there to be caveats to ensure one parent can maintain childcare and an income.  

Employers would likely have little choice in the matter, with objections to mobilisation being only for the most exceptional circumstances. The rights in terms of redundancy and the right to return to the role would likely remain in place.  

That said, there is currently no law in the UK to allow for conscription, showing that despite the media commentary on the issue it remains highly unlikely and there would have to be the most catastrophic of circumstances before such emergency legislation would have any prospect of being passed in this country. 

Are you ready to become your workplace hero?

Although the concept of conscription currently seems far-fetched, understanding the potential implications for businesses, such as the need for temporary replacements and associated costs, is a valuable exercise. As we navigate through these speculative discussions, it’s crucial to acknowledge the improbable nature of conscription and focus on more immediate employment law considerations. If you have any questions regarding employment law, our experts are here to provide guidance and support.