Special Counsel Upholds Job-Protection Rights for Guard, Reserve
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2004 There's good news for federal employees who have filed claims that their bosses denied them job rights because of their National Guard or reserve service, an attorney with the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve told the American Forces Press Service.
Sam Wright, also a captain in the Naval Reserve, said a new special counsel who took office last January is helping speed along backlogged claims and ensuring that federal employers who violate the law are held accountable.
Wright said Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch is helping ensure the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, commonly referred to as USERRA, is effectively enforced.
The law, which has been in effect for the past 10 years, prohibits employers from discriminating against their workers because of their military service. Congress passed the law to safeguard the employment rights and benefits of servicemembers upon their return to civilian life.
USERRA applies to the federal, state and local governments and to private employers, regardless of size.
Employees who believe their employers have violated their rights under USERRA file a complaint with the Department of Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training Service, Wright explained in an article in this month's "The Officer," a publication of the Reserve Officers Association.
If a Department of Labor investigation concludes that the case has merit and the employer is a federal agency, the Labor Department refers the case to the Office of Special Counsel, Wright explained. This small federal agency is headed by the special counsel.
A General Accountability Office report issued last month criticized the speed in which the Office of Special Counsel moved forward on USERRA complaints.
But Wright said the report covered the agency's operations before Bloch took the reins, ushering in a sea change in the way the complaints are handled. "Referring a USERRA case to OSC is no longer a useless formality," Wright wrote.
So far this year, the Office of Special Counsel has processed "about a dozen" USERRA cases, some of which had been backlogged as long as two years, according to spokeswoman Cathy Deeds.
Deeds said all but one of the cases resulted in settlement. One, a complaint filed against the U.S. Postal Service, was referred to the Merit Systems Protection Board for further action.
Wright said this new momentum represents a positive step in protecting Guard and reserve members' job rights.
During a July 8 Pentagon ceremony, Bloch signed a statement of support for the National Guard and reserve and said he supports USERRA, not only as a representative of the administration and a citizen, but as the father of an active-duty Marine. Bloch's son, Lance Cpl. Michael Bloch, recently returned to Iraq for a second tour of duty.
Wright said the Office of Special Counsel's new emphasis on USAERRA enforcement "helps ensure that the federal government stands as a model employer in its treatment of National Guard and reserve employees."