Regis and Helene McQuaide, owners of Regis McQuaide and Co. in Pittsburgh, were a little taken aback last September when lead carpenter David Leister left for a weekend's service in the Army Reserve, only to call saying he wouldn't be returning to work for a while.

Leister was one of approximately 50,000 reservists called to duty in light of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Leister ended up returning to work a week later, but if he hadn't, the McQuaides would have been legally obligated to continue his benefits and to re-employ him after his tour of duty. Employees who are in the Reserves are covered by the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). The Act specifies that after their period of duty expires, reservists are entitled to have their old job back, as well as the seniority, rights, and benefits that would have accrued over the period they were gone.

If a situation arises where an employee is injured in the line of duty while still covered by the employer's insurance, Gregory Begg, an attorney for New Jersey law firm Packar amp; Abramson, says that the case becomes a "coordination of benefits issue." Both the Army and the employer's private insurer are responsible for bearing some costs, the extent of which would have to be negotiated.

Begg also points out that a provision in the law allows employers to be excused from holding the reservist's job open or paying benefits by proving financial hardship would ensue. But it's not easy. "You would have to show that it would be impossible for you to comply without going out of business," Begg says.