Understanding Veterans' Rights at Work
By Joshua C. Black, Esq.
If you are a United States military veteran, reservist or active service member, by law you have certain employment rights to protect you in your civilian position. A variety of federal and state laws, policies, and programs provide military personnel access to time off from work to fulfill commitments to the U.S. armed services, including the National Guard and Reserve. These safeguards also protect service members from discrimination in the workplace and may provide access to specific employment benefits while on duty.
One of the most helpful and comprehensive laws for service members is the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). This federal law is intended to ensure that persons who serve - or have served – in the armed forces, Reserve, National Guard, or other uniformed services are not disadvantaged in civilian careers as a result of their service.
Enacted Oct. 13, 1994, USERRA guarantees employees returning from active duty, maneuvers, camps, training or drills, have the right to prompt reemployment in their previous position or in a higher-ranking position with the same benefits. USERRA protects service members from advancement discrimination based on past, present or future military service and ensures service members cannot lose seniority if complying with competent orders.
USERRA applies to all businesses, industries and employers, regardless of size, including the federal government. If an employee is called away for duty or military training, employers must provide paid time off for military leaves (up to 30 days every other year). Compensation is customarily the employee’s regular salary minus the amount paid by the government for active duty. Military leave cannot be deducted from an employee’s vacation time or paid time off (PTO). However, during the time of service, employees are not entitled to accrue PTO or sick leave.
If an employee is required to leave their civilian job to report for uniformed service, they have a responsibility to notify their employer in writing and provide official orders with as much notice as possible. Employees who are absent from work under competent military orders should assure their employer they will return to job duties in a timely manner after the conclusion of their service.
If an employee leaves their job to perform military service, they have the right to continue existing employer-based health insurance coverage for both themselves and their dependents for up to 24 months while serving in the military. If an employee does not opt to retain employer-sponsored health insurance while on duty, they have the right to reinstatement without waiting periods or exclusions like pre-existing conditions. This may not apply to service-connected illness or injury.
Although there are specific guidelines to employing a service member, the benefits of hiring a veteran are countless. Veterans are valuable employees who typically work well under pressure, respect co-workers and superiors, value teamwork, adapt quickly and have strong work ethics.
To learn more about USERRA visit https://www.dol.gov/agencies/vets/programs/userra.