Served in the Military? Here Are 4 Things You Need to Know About the USERRA
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) of 1994 is a federal statute that protects veterans and servicemembers from being discriminated against due to their military status in the civilian employment arena. This statute typically protects two groups of people: (1) reservists who have military responsibilities and a civilian job and (2) veterans who have entered or are trying to enter the civilian workforce after their military service is complete. While the law itself is long and complicated, these are four things servicemembers and veterans should be aware of regarding their rights.
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1. Your civilian job must be held for you for a certain time period.
Under the USERRA, the cumulative amount of time that you may be absent for work for military service and still retain your employment rights is usually five years. There are some exceptions to this five-year limit, however. An initial enlistment period that is longer than five years can lead to an extension. Periodic National Guard and reserve training duty is also granted an exception, as are involuntary active duty extensions and recalls, particularly in the case of a national emergency.
2. Disabled veterans may have their jobs held longer.
While disabled veterans may also be eligible for certain protections under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the USERRA provides them with specific protections designed for veterans’ unique circumstances. While the law, like the ADA, requires employers to make reasonable accommodations regarding the disability, it also provides additional protections for newly injured veterans. Specifically it allows servicemembers who received their injuries during service or training a window of up to two years for them to convalesce and recover from their injuries during which their civilian job must be held for them.
3. You may continue to accrue seniority at your civilian job while you are fulfilling your military duties.
Under something called the “escalator principle,” when you return to your civilian job after military duty you must return with the same seniority, status, and pay you would have attained had you not been absent for military service. This does not mean that you are automatically entitled to discretionary promotions based on performance that you may or may not have achieved had you been in your civilian employment. However, your employer must make reasonable efforts such as training or retraining in order to refresh or upgrade your skills so that you will be qualified for an “escalator” position.
4. You cannot be discriminated against because of your past, future, or intended service.
If you are a past or present member of the armed services, have applied for membership in the armed services, or are obligated to service, you cannot be discriminated against by an employer because of this status. This means that an employer cannot deny you a job, deny you reemployment, or deny you a promotion or employment benefit because of your service.
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Dan Kalish is a partner and founder of HKM Employment Lawyers (www.hkm.com), an employment law firm that represents individuals nationwide. A graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, Dan frequently speaks and writes about issues related to employment law on hkm.com/employmentblog.