Military reservists are now allowed more downtime before they return to their civilian jobs. New legislation passed last week closes a gap left open by federal law, says the bill’s sponsor Rep. Mark Bryant, D-Windham, and lays out guidelines to protect reservists’ rights.

Under federal law, military reservists on weekend training or deployed for up to 30 days have only eight hours to return to work. But after 30 days, they receive from weeks to months of protected leave.

Now the state Legislature has instituted a series of extensions to give Maine’s “weekend warriors” time to return home and get good night’s sleep before they are required to punch the time clock.

Being in the military reserve or National Guard means monthly weekend training sessions and annual weeklong training.

For less than three days, the reservists are now granted a full 24-hours before they must return to their regular jobs. For three to 15 days, they get two days of downtime and, for 15 to 30 days, they get three days.

“We didn’t want to put the employers under any hardship,” Bryant said. “But when you are training, it’s not like it’s a picnic. You’re physically tired afterward.”

These extended rest periods also allow military reservists to spend a little time with their families before returning to work, Bryant said. The new law protects reservists from being fired if they need time to rest. But this law is not a mandate, he adds, and military reservists are welcome to return to work sooner if they so choose.

In addition, the law protects Maine soldiers dispatched to emergency situations here and out of state. This means reservists engaged in disaster relief in places like New Orleans will be granted the same protections. Soldiers are only protected under federal law if the federal government calls for their service.

Bryant and his brother Sen. Bill Bryant, D-Oxford, co-sponsored the new law, which passed unanimously in the House of Representative and state Senate last week.

Colonel Peter Golding, judge advocate for the Maine National Guard, helped the Bryant brothers shape the bill.

“It’s a very nice ladder approach that gives the returning soldier enough time to get some sleep,” he said.

While the business community welcomed the new law during legislative hearings, Golding believes most reservists will return to their civilian jobs as soon as they can.

One impetus for the bill was the accidental death of Willie Gordon, an Army reservist from New Jersey. In 2000, Gordon was forced to work the late shift upon returning from weekend training. He later fell asleep at the wheel and died in a car crash on his way home after work.

“In Maine, we haven’t seen the need for this legislation yet,” Golding said. “But in other states, there has been the need. This is preventive legislation so this doesn’t become a problem.”

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