New Rules to Reinforce Guard, Reserve Reemployment Protections
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2005 The National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve is lauding today's Labor Department announcement that it is issuing rules clarifying re-employment rights for citizen-soldiers as a major step forward for Guardsmen, Reservists and their civilian employers.
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao announced final rules interpreting the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act that helps ensure job security for reserve-component members returning to civilian life from military duty. The rules will be published Dec. 19 in the Federal Register.
Speaking at the National Press Club here, Chao noted that this is the first time since the law's passage in 1994 that regulations have been developed to enforce it.
The rules are particularly critical now, she said, when the United States has the largest group of mobilized National Guard and Reserve members since World War II. Since Sept. 11, 2001, almost 530,000 reserve-component members have been mobilized, many for more than a year of duty.
The new rules, drafted in an easy-to-read question-and-answer format, explain how the USERRA law protects against discrimination and retaliation because of military service and prevents servicemembers from job setbacks due to performing their military obligations. The law also ensures that Guard and Reserve members have ample time to report back to their civilian jobs after completing their military duty.
"Our citizen-soldiers put themselves in harm's way to defend our freedoms, and now it's our turn to be there for them," Chao said. "These regulations will ensure that the seniority, promotion, health care, pensions and other benefits of our citizen-soldiers are protected when they return home to the jobs they left to serve our country."
Air Force Maj. Rob Palmer, a public affairs officer for the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, said putting teeth behind the USERRA law benefits citizen soldiers as well as their employers. "Anything that makes it easier for Guard and Reserve members to work with their employers and understand their rights and responsibilities under the law is a benefit to everyone," he said.
With more than 50 percent of the military's manpower in the reserve components, employer support is critical to U.S. national security, Palmer said.
But making the relationship work "is not a one-way street," he said, noting that Guardsmen and Reservists also have responsibilities under USERRA.
Among those responsibilities is keeping their employers informed about their military commitments. "We encourage Guard and Reserve members to communicate early and often with their employers about upcoming military obligations," Palmer said.
Thanks largely to efforts by the Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve and solid support from employers, work-related complaints from returning Guard and Reserve members are down 30 percent since their last major deployment, in the early 1990s.
During Operation Desert Storm, one in 54 demobilized troops filed work-related complaints with the Labor Department, officials said. During the war on terror, the rate has dropped to one in 81.
Officials hope this trend will continue and see the new USERRA rules as a big step toward that end.
Other Labor Department initiatives also are expected to help. These include providing briefings to more than 270,000 servicemembers and others about the law, responding to more than 36,000 requests for technical assistance and publishing information about the final notice on the department's Web site.