USERRA: What is it and What Does it Protect?
The past 2 years have been a ride the likes none of us have ever faced. Battling a worldwide pandemic that has left significant shortages of manpower in the healthcare and other service fields, and a series of Mother Nature-related disasters that added to the strain, no workforce has stepped up like our military.
Pitching in where and when circumstances dictated, uniformed service members of the Armed Forces have been a welcome presence in times of need. Their assistance has made many companies revisit the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Originally known as the Veterans’ Reemployment Rights (VRR), USERRA is federal law that was passed in 1994 to protect military service members and veterans from employment discrimination on the basis of their service. The law enables service members to regain their civilian jobs following a period of uniformed service.
USERRA protects members of the Armed Forces; Army or Air National Guard, including full-time duty, active duty for training and inactive duty training; commissioned corps of the Public Health Services; and other categories of service designated by the President during times of war or national emergency.
To qualify for USERRA protection, you must have had or have applied for a civilian job, giving your civilian employer written or verbal notice prior to leaving the job for military training or service, except when prevented by military necessity. Your service must not have exceeded a five-year cumulative limit on periods of service.
While uniformed service members represent a small segment of the total workforce, most eventually will ask for USERRA leave. The key is understanding what your rights are under USERRA, which applies to virtually all employers, regardless of size, including the Federal Government. USERRA violations can result in severe punishment of both companies and individuals in violation of its statutes.
Here are some of the key USERRA points you should know:
- Prohibits illegal discrimination against members of the uniformed services
- Requires prompt reemployment—not at your job prior to mobilization, but at the job and in the position you would have been at had you not been mobilized
- Provides for credit for mobilized time for seniority, retirement, rate of pay, and pension and retirement contributions
- Provides for health care benefits
- Provides for protection from discharge after return from military service, specifying the length of this protection as well as when the protection begins and ends
- Provides for both corporate and individual supervisor liability for violations of USERRA
- Provides for protection from discharge in hiring, promotion, and retention on the basis of present or future membership in the uniformed services
USERRA also provides protection for disabled veterans, requiring that employers make reasonable efforts to accommodate their disability. Service members convalescing from injuries received during service or training may have up to two years from the date of completion of service to return to their jobs or apply for reemployment.
In regards to USERRA’s continual impact on the workforce, it is important to note that the law is still evolving on the federal level. For example, as recently as January 15, 2021, it was amended to include coverage for National Guard soldiers called to “state active duty” by their governors. The amendment was passed in response to the pandemic.
To help you understand your rights in the face of your continual service to our country, we are committed to your rights. If you have questions about your USERRA rights, please reach out to one of our attorneys today.