Feb. 19, 2019
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Defense recognizes Lab as Patriotic Employer

Jeremy Thomas, thomas244 [at] llnl.gov, 925-422-5539

An organized effort to support a deployed Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) employee and change a long-standing policy on differential pay for active duty soldiers has garnered Patriotic Employer Awards from the Office of the Secretary of Defense for two LLNL managers.

The policy change was initiated by U.S. Army reservist Mike Vieira, a cybersecurity expert on the Lab’s Field Intelligence Element Cybersecurity Team, who recently returned from a 10-month deployment in Afghanistan. Shortly before his deployment in 2018, which occurred just a few months after the birth of his son, Computation Workforce Manager Marcey Kelley spoke with Vieira about employee satisfaction, recruiting and retention. Vieira took the opportunity to inquire about a Lab policy regarding hazard pay for active duty employees.

Lab policy, which exceeds the requirements in federal law for employees returning from military deployment, states that when an active duty employee is deployed, the Lab makes up the difference between military pay and the employee’s Lab salary. However, before the change, hazard pay for servicemen and women in combat zones was subtracted from the differential, instead of being considered as additional pay. In short, no matter how much hazard pay a service member received, he or she would end up making the same differential amount per year.

While the policy went beyond benefits offered by many private companies, Kelley thought a change that would help aid active duty employees and their families was worth looking into. She pursued it for months, enlisting the efforts of Associate Director for Strategic Human Resources Management Renee Breyer, Human Resources Policy Specialist Mary Byrne, Computation’s Principal Deputy Associate Director Eric McKinzie and Deputy Laboratory Director Tom Gioconda, a veteran himself. The National Nuclear Security Administration approved the policy change on May 1. During Vieira’s deployment, Kelley updated him on the progress of the policy discussions. She informed him of the positive outcome while he was still in Afghanistan.

"I had a sense of disbelief," Vieira said. "After it sunk in, it felt like someone was really willing to stick up for service members and do the right thing. She kept looking for the right person to talk to and mining me for better data. I felt very grateful, and it was one more thing that reminded me that people back home care about me and care about other service members and wanted to make our plight a little easier."

Vieira’s supervisor on the FIE Cybersecurity Team, Chris Murray, supported Vieira and his family throughout his deployment. Murray, whose son is on active duty with the U.S. Army, said he didn’t know what Lab policy was regarding deployed employees but committed to not replacing Vieira while he was overseas. Murray stayed in contact with Vieira and his family throughout Vieira’s military leave and wrote in support of changing the policy on differential pay.

For their efforts, the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve recognized both Kelley and Murray as Patriotic Employers for "contributing to national security and protecting liberty and freedom by supporting employee participation in America’s National Guard and Reserve Force."

"It seemed like a no-brainer," Kelley said of the policy change. "I felt very proud to have been able to help him, and it was just the right thing to do. The message for me was that there are a lot of things that are possible. If somebody’s having a problem, just ask. If there’s something that we can do to make a change and make somebody’s life better, we will, especially for this guy who’s serving in the military for us. It felt really good to show a very small token of our appreciation that would make a really big difference for him."

Murray said he was "incredibly grateful" and "very surprised" by the award, which he hung next to his college diploma.

"It was really nice to receive that kind of recognition as a supervisor," Murray said. "[Vieira] made the sacrifice and we just had to suck it up for 10 months and split his workload. It was difficult, but not compared to what he had to do. I know this was a tough deployment for him to accept. Mike was trying to fulfill his duty and so the best we could do is support him."

Vieira, who returned to the Lab in November, said Murray made him feel like he had support at work both prior to and during his deployment and fully understood his situation, going "above and beyond" Vieira’s experiences at his previous workplaces. He also gave kudos to other members of his team, who organized care packages that were shipped to him in Afghanistan and collected money to buy a gift for his son’s first birthday.

"It really does mean a lot, whether it’s a care package full of Pringles or wet wipes or fighting for a policy, it all means something," Vieira said. "It’s easy when you’re over there to feel like you’re just in a different world or a different lifetime, and when you get these reminders, it really is important."

Vieira said even though the amount of money involved in the policy change wasn’t very much, the principle of it sends a positive message to both current and future active duty employees.  

"It doubles down on the institution’s true dedication to the military," Vieira said. "It’s proof positive. The Lab has made a recent, very real decision to improve their support of deploying employees."