The United States has a proud history of volunteers for military service. There are currently 786,778 men and women throughout the United States who voluntarily serve either in the National Guard for their respective state or a reserve branch of the military. Federal and state governments have enacted laws protecting such individuals whose civilian employment is voluntarily or involuntarily interrupted to perform military obligations. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) is one such law. USERRA not only mandates leave to individuals to perform military obligations but also protects individuals from employment discrimination.
USERRA applies to all employers regardless of size. The law prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of past, present or future membership in a uniformed service and provides employees certain reemployment rights. Returning veterans must be reemployed in their prior position or another position with similar seniority, status and pay. Although the law does not require such leave be paid, certain benefits may need to be retained.
Since the Act is quite detailed, the U.S. Department of Labor has published A Guide to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. In addition to USERRA, individuals and their family members may be eligible for leave protection for particular “qualifying exigencies” under the amended Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Finally, know your State’s law as well. Employers must respond appropriately to planned and unplanned leaves of absence for such service. For additional resources and support, feel free to reach out to your Employers Council representative or refer to Employers Council’s FYIs concerning USERRA and Discrimination and Military Family Leave Requirements and FMLA.