[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                     March 27, 2009

Soldiers have re-employment 
rights after tours end

By Tom Michele, The Real McCoy Contributor

Getting their job back when they return to the United States from a tour of active duty is obviously critical in reserve-component Soldiers’ lives.

Photo: Lt. Col. Hal Baird of the Installation Legal Office talks about legal issues with personnel form the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team during a mobilization briefing. (Photo by Tom Michele)
Lt. Col. Hal Baird of the Installation Legal Office talks about legal issues with personnel form the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team during a mobilization briefing. 
(Photo by Tom Michele)

Knowing they will get their job back is made easier for Soldiers if they are familiar with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), the law that protects Soldiers from losing employment they had prior to putting on the military uniform and reporting for military service.

The title USERRA is a long one, but Fort McCoy Command Judge Advocate for the Regional Training Center-North Maj. Joel Olson explained it, "USERRA is important so Soldiers mobilizing for duty will be confident they will have a job when they return home and not have lost any job opportunities or benefits." Olson also serves as a legal assistance attorney at the Fort McCoy Installation Legal Office (ILO).

"Knowing about USERRA will allow Soldiers to not worry about their job back home so they can concentrate on their military mission," Olson said.

USERRA is one of the topics JAG officers explain to Soldiers in the opening stage of mobilization processing and also in the demobilization briefings when the Soldier returns to the United States. Olson is one of three JAG officers at the ILO who gives those briefings, mostly conducted at the Soldier Readiness Center.

"There are several key areas to USERRA," Olson said. He started with, "Soldiers will not be discriminated against because they are in the military. They must provide ample written or verbal notification to the employer they are going on active duty. Soldiers have the right to get their former job back, and, if not the exact job, then a job that is comparable in pay and employee status. The employer is responsible for training the just-returned Soldier if the job is different, changed or new."

Prerequisites for USERRA coverage include the Soldier providing documentation of service, normally the DD-214 Report of Separation from Active Duty.

Soldiers must have an honorable or general discharge. Bad conduct and dishonorable discharges leave Soldiers ineligible for USERRA benefits.

Soldiers also must report back to work with their former employer in a timely manner. The Soldier must request reinstatement, a letter is O.K., within 14 days of separation from military service if that service was 31 days to 180 days in length. If the service was 181 or more days, Soldiers must request reinstatement within 90 days. Also, military service may not exceed five years per employer, although that does not apply for mobilization.

The JAG officers explain the protections of vacation time and pay, health insurance coverage, pension protection and protection from subsequent discharge, Olson said.

There are limitations to USERRA’s protections, such as the returning employee must be qualified to perform the job offered. The employer must provide refresher training if needed. Also, USERRA protection may be limited if the employer’s circumstances have significantly changed, such as having gone out of business.

Among a Solder’s resources, beyond the ILO, are two Web sites — Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) http://www.esgr.org and U.S. Department of Labor, Veterans Employment and Training Service (DOL-VETS) http://www.dol.gov/vets/.

(Michele is a public affairs specialist for Eagle Systems and Services Inc., contractor for CONUS Support Base Services.)


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