When you commit your dedication to your country by enlisting in the Armed Forces, you also agree to uproot your life at a moment's notice. This makes everyday life exceedingly difficult for those who have to leave their regular jobs and families to serve when their nation calls upon them.
Fortunately, those who are faced with leaving their employment for short or ongoing deployments receive special protections under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Read on to learn how USERRA can afford you certain rights regarding your healthcare and employment obligations.
What Is USERRA?
USERRA is a federal statute enacted by Congress to support non-career service members and recognizes the unique challenges they face compared to those serving full-time. This law provides three protections for uniformed members in three primary ways:
- Ensures the affected service member can gain re-employment in their previous or similar job role when they are finished with active duty periods.
- Protects veterans from being discriminated against by employers and protects them from employer retaliation because of their status as service members.
- Provides rights to healthcare for a limited period while serving.
To better understand how the USERRA applies to your situation as a non-career military member, consult with an experienced veteran attorney like those at Morgan and Morgan. The initial consultation is free, and we can assess your current challenge that may be affected by this Act.
Which Employers Must Comply with USERRA?
In general, USERRA covers most employers as defined by the Act as an individual or organization that pays wages or salary to those who perform work for them or have control over employment matters. This definition applies to both the private and public sectors and government agencies on all levels. Further, it doesn't matter if the company in question only has two or two thousand workers, and the amount of revenue earned by the employer doesn't affect compliance requirements either.
What Employees Receive USERRA Protection?
Currently, USERRA provides its protections for those in the uniformed services, which include:
- Armed Forces
- Army National Guard
- Air National Guard (when training or on full-time duty)
It should be noted that USERRA doesn't have authority over National Guard services ordered by their states, though additional protections exist for service members in this situation.
Additionally, this Act covers those who are part of the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System and other related service categories during national emergencies designated by the President of the United States (POTUS). This means if you are part of your state's National Guard and are called to assist FEMA after a major disaster like a Gulf Coast hurricane event, you are covered.
How Does USERRA Specifically Protect My Employment?
One of the primary functions of USERRA is to ensure that you can regain your employment once you return from your service duty obligations that took you away. To qualify, the following conditions must be met:
- You had or were in the process of being hired for a civilian job, and,
- You gave your employer written or verbal notice about your departure for required military activities if possible, and,
- You haven't exceeded the five-year cumulative limit of service time, and,
- You didn't receive a dishonorable discharge, and,
- You are reporting back to your previous employer in a timely manner or ensuring your application for re-employment is expedited.
Satisfying these conditions will entitle you to be reinstated to a former job with the same level of seniority and terms you were hired under before leaving to fulfill your service duties. If your previous position isn't available any longer, your employer has to offer you a similar role.
What is the USERRA Health Insurance Guarantee?
Another crucial feature of USERRA is its guarantee that eligible service members and their families will continue receiving their health insurance coverage. This guarantee can last up to 24 months while the covered employee is serving their country. If you should decide you don't want to continue enrollment in your employer-provided healthcare policy, you have the option of re-enrolling later. Further, the predetermined open enrollment period often won't apply to your situation nor the exclusions for pre-existing conditions.
How USERRA Protects You From Employment Discrimination and Retaliation
The final protection that USERRA provides its uniformed service members is relief from employment discrimination and retaliation. This is a crucial piece of this Act because returning military veterans who may be redeployed later often face a hard time finding a civilian job because of this fact.
Specifically, when seeking work or if you're currently employed and are a non-career service member, you are protected against the following:
- Hiring discrimination
- Re-employment denial
- Adverse promotion/wage increase decisions
- Employment benefit discrimination
When referring to employment benefits, you should understand this covers everything from profits to status and even your interests in the company you work for. Much like other workplace anti-discrimination laws, USERRA makes it illegal for your boss to retaliate against you when enforcing your protections under this Act or assist others trying to exercise these rights. This includes testifying at hearings or participating in an investigation of your employer's compliance with this law.
What if My USERRA Rights Were Violated?
When an employer doesn't comply with the requirements set forth for USERRA-covered military employees, violations can be severe. Right off the bat, this Act allows judges a broader authority in forcing companies to comply. This means requiring reinstatement for the protected employee in question, including, but not limited to:
- Holding employers in contempt
- Issuing restraining orders
- Granting injunctions for relief
- Awarding monetary compensation
When employers don't do the right thing and allow their service member worker to return to work, they will also be liable for lost wages and benefits they would have received. Also, intentionally violating USERRA can also lead to an award of liquidated damages equal to that lost income. Finally, when you win your case against your employer for violating your protections under the law, your attorney will be required to pay for the legal costs associated with your action.