Being discriminated against in the workforce is unacceptable. Workers’ rights are important protection in our capitalist society that helps Americans continue to provide for themselves and their families and continue their pursuit of happiness freely. But Veterans who were called to serve that are returning to civilian life may not always be so lucky. There are employers who may demote workers upon return, bar them from being hired, refuse to provide reasonable accommodations, etc. This is where the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, or USERRA for short, comes in. You have rights and deserve to know them to fight back against unfair treatment in the workplace.
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What Is USERRA?
The USERRA act is a protection that was passed by U.S. Congress during the Clinton administration and made into law when President Clinton signed the bill in 1994. USERRA provides active and reserve military members with protections in regards to their civilian employment when called into active duty.
For example, if you’re a member of the Army Reserve and working at a company only to be called into active duty and then return to your civilian job, the USERRA law mandates that you must be allowed to return to your same position and rate of pay that you’d be at had you never left.
Furthermore, should you become disabled due to your service, you are also provided protection. Veterans will gain up to two years of recovery time from the completion of service to return back to their position of employment. Employers must also make reasonable accommodations.
Finally, if you’re discriminated against or USERRA employer obligations have not been met, you have options. USERRA lawyers can help you present a case and prove that you were wronged. You must prove that your military service was the deciding factor as to why your rights were violated.
Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) is a government agency under the U.S. Department of Labor. VETS helps monitor and operate the program, acting as a primary source of information for USERRA regulations. USERRA also applies to U.S. companies operating in foreign countries.
USERRA Employer Obligations for Pensions
In addition to hiring and firing practices, employers are required by USERRA laws to follow certain guidelines in regard to the pensions of their Veteran employees. USERRA employer obligations for pensions can be found in USERRA Fact Sheet 1.
This is more or less an FAQ of common, yet important, questions asked by employers to VETS in an attempt to remain in compliance with USERRA. There are multiple scenarios that can arise, but here are some of the highlights:
- All pension plans, with the exception of the Thrift Savings Plan from the Federal government, are covered by USERRA.
- Benefits, rights, and positions must be returned to Veterans who go back to work.
- A Veteran’s time of service and their time of recovery allowed by USERRA must all be counted as continuous employment.
- Pension contributions are not required by employers while their employees are serving in the military.
For more information, visit the USERRA Fact Sheet, contact VETS, or speak with USERRA lawyers in your area. Additional Fact Sheets are available through the USERRA resources page.
Your Responsibilities for Returning to Work
According to USERRA’s return to work guidelines, military members returning to work must report back to their civilian place of employment in accordance with the law’s guidelines. These timelines will depend on different variables, but mostly, they’ll hinge on your length of service:
- Under 31 Days- Report back to work on the first day for the next normal work period, provided you’ve been allowed time to travel home and at least 8 hours to rest.
- Between 31 and 180 Days- You have to submit your application for reemployment within 14 days of being released from service.
- 181+ Days- Employees have to submit an application for reemployment within 90 days of being released from service.
Employees are also responsible for submitting written or verbal notice of their military duty to their employer unless it’s unreasonable, impossible, or forbidden by the military itself.
Submitting a Claim and Other USERRA Resources
USERRA rights lay out the framework for a healthy work environment for Veterans who are returning to their civilian duties after service. If your place of work fails to do its part to uphold these rights, you have options.
VETS is available to investigate and handle USERRA violations. For more information or help filing your complaint, contact VETS at 1 (866) 487-2365 or online at www.dol.gov/agencies/vets. You can also learn more through the interactive online USERRA Advisor.
In the event that VETS cannot resolve your claim, a request can be made to refer your case to the Department of Justice or the Office of Special Counsel. Civil action against your employer is also an option, should you wish to forgo the VETS process.
Understanding your rights and the resources available is the first step in protecting yourself from wrongful business practices. USERRA is there to help protect those who sacrifice their time and lives to protect all of us.
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