The Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), signed in October 1994, protects employees enlisted in the military who deploy. In other words, a civilian employee can take a leave of absence to perform military duties, whether involuntarily or voluntarily, knowing that he or she has the protection of accrued seniority and other benefits of the job.
USERRA applies to anyone serving as a reserve in the Army, Marines, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, and even commissioned corps of the Public Health Service. The act also covers reserves completing service or going through training for the Air National Guard or Army National Guard.
What this means is that a reserve in any of the aforementioned military services who works a civilian job has protection under USERRA when performing active duty, training (both active duty and inactive duty), and funeral honors duty.
By law, an employee or a commanding officer in the respective military branch must give the employer a written or oral notice of deployment in advance unless unreasonable or impossible. Once released from military service, an employee must follow the guidelines for reemployment, including:
- Served less than 31 days – Can usually return to work the next business day
- Served between 31 and 180 days – Must reapply within 14 days
- Served more than 180 days – Has up to 90 days to reapply
Keep in mind that under USERRA, protection only applies to deployed civilian employees released from service as “honorably discharged.”
Just as an employee must follow specific rules, so does the employer.
- For a period of up to five years, the employer provides the employee with an unpaid leave of absence. However, if someone who is exempt works in a deployed position but spends any amount of time working the civilian job within a given week, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the employer must pay that employee his or her salary for the full week.
- While deployed, the employer must offer the employee the same rights and benefits as other workers in the same or a similar position.
- After returning to work from a deployment, the employer must reinstate the employee to the position that he or she left. If that position changed during the employee’s absence, the employer has to offer the employee training for a lateral position with the same growth potential.
- While the employee is deployed, the employer must maintain his or her seniority-based benefits and rights, including pension, 401k contributions, vacation pay, sick pay, and so on.
- For employees who deploy less than 31 days, the employer has to continue to provide the same medical benefits.
- Depending on the length of deployment, an employer cannot terminate an employee for a specified period once he or she returns to work following a deployment.
When it comes to USERRA, there is much more to understand, which proves overwhelming for a lot of people. If you need help understanding your rights under this act, or perhaps your employer did not follow the rules, you need to speak with a qualified attorney right away. After all, USERRA is meant to safeguard the men and women who serve to protect this country. Therefore, if your employer does not do the right things, you need experienced legal representation.