DoD Stresses Reserve Component Troops' Re-Employment Rights
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 21, 2004 National Guard troops, reservists and active duty military people can rest easy that their jobs will be waiting for them when they return from deployment.
That is the message the U.S. Office of Special Counsel conveyed in an interview with the Pentagon Channel today.
Passed in October 1994, the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act is the tool the Office of Special Counsel wields to back up that statement. The act states that uniformed service members cannot lose their jobs or benefits because of a call to military service.
"You have to look at it as if (the service member) stayed on the job. That's what they're entitled to as if they were on an escalator," said Special Counsel Scott Bloch. "And even while they're gone, that escalator continues to go up whether it be seniority, or whether it be accrual of pension benefits or any other rights that go with employment.
USERRA also applies to active duty service members, he said. For example, if you decided to join the military while working for a private employer or the federal government (or are called up), you have employment rights and restoration-of-benefit rights for five years after you sign up, Bloch said.
Service members who meet conditions set forth in USERRA are guaranteed full restitution of employment, all seniority that goes with that, and any employment benefits that accrue because of that job. The conditions stipulate that the employer be informed that an employee has been called up or is joining up. The employee must serve in the uniformed services and must report back to the employer in a timely fashion upon completion of service.
As with every rule, there are exceptions. An employee is not necessarily entitled to receive pay or accrue vacation or annual leave while serving with the military. However, should service members returning from deployment encounter difficulties getting reinstated to their previous or equivalent positions, the Veterans Employment Training Service Office within the Department of Labor should be their first stop.
If an investigation yields no satisfactory resolution, the next stop is the courtroom. Federal employees have the option of asking OSC to prosecute in court on their behalf. Private-sector employees' cases are handled through the Justice Department.
Recently, the OSC filed a USERRA case against a federal agency, the first in its 25-year history. Bloch said the case would benefit the individual and any others who work for that agency. "We filed that only because the agency would not do the right thing with regard to the Postal Service employee," Bloch said.
Bloch recently signed an Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Statement of Support, pledging to honor re-employment rights and to enforce USERRA vigorously and thoroughly for all Guardsmen and reservists.
"We'd just like to leave Guardsmen and reservists with the firm impression and knowledge that our office stands ready and willing and committed to enforcing their rights," Bloch said. "We stand as the prosecutor of the cases under USERRA, and we stand as a guardian of those rights, and those individuals have no need to fear whether their job is going to be protected and whether we are going to enforce those rights."