What would a British citizen’s army mean for employers?

7th February 2024

As reported by the BBC, General Sir Patrick Sanders’ insinuation that modern society is moving from a post-war to pre-war state has rumbled the newsfeeds planting one question in everyone’s mind: might the British public be called upon to fight?

In his address, the General made two things clear:

  1. should, in response to its invasion of Ukraine, NATO declare war against Russia then its members, including Great Britain, will be pulled into the fight; and
  2. the British army (including its reservists) is “too small” to engage in land combat against Russia meaning that any support from Britain would be a “whole-of-nation undertaking”.

The General’s assertions (rightly or wrongly made) do pose interesting points in relation to what conscription might mean for employers.

In 2024, it seems unfathomable that modern society need to concern itself with being drafted into military service but, should that eventuality arise, consideration ought to be given as to what happens once the conflict is over and what would those returning be coming back to? A few standout points (although the below list is by no means exhaustive) do come to mind in respect of what employers might need to think about (and the Government might need to legislate for) :

  • What will be the status of employment contracts from the point of conscription: will they rendered void or will employers be required to, or at least offer, suspension of the employment contract during their employee’s military service;
  • If the employment contract is suspended, will employers be required to continue to pay salary, the tax and national insurance from it, and any employer pension contributions or would there be a central government fund to cover this? If the conscripted employee dies (or is assumed dead), would their employer be able to recover those payments or would they be passed onto the employee’s relatives;
  • How would resumption of work operate post-military service? It may be the case that those who are exempt from conscription have been hired, or have been ‘acted-up’, to fill the vacancy that the conscripted employee left behind. What happens to those employees once the conscripted employee returns;
  • Would a conscripted employee’s military service break their continuity of employment or would special provisions be made so that, if they were to return, then their period of continuous of service would resume rather than restart meaning that if, they had worked for their employer for two years or more prior to conscription, then they would not lose their right not to be unfairly dismissed;
  • War is obviously a harrowing experience. What will be done to safeguard the mental wellbeing of those readjusting to civilian life? What services would be made available to those who have suffered mental and/or physical impairments post-military service and what reasonable adjustments would need to be made to carry on work or would their injuries be so severe that they would be incapable of performing in their role;
  • If, as a result of their military experience, the returning employee is incapable of doing their job? Would dismissing them be fair in the circumstances or would the employer be required to offer suitable alternative employment first before dismissing them and, if they are dismissed, to what extent would their employer be required to contribute to any re-skilling and securement of future work?

What are your thoughts on the potential revival of conscription and how it might impact businesses?  Please send me a DM or email me at joe.hennessy@smb.london