Regulations developed to enforce federal law for Reservists

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- New rules issued by the U.S. Labor Department in December put some teeth behind the federal law designed to ensure job security for members of the reserve components returning to civilian life from military duty.

Re-employment rights under USERRA

The Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act protects the job rights of individuals who voluntarily or involuntarily leave employment positions to undertake military service. SERRA also prohibits employers from discriminating against past and present members of the uniformed services and applicants to the uniformed services. Here are your re-employment rights under USERRA:

You have the right to be re-employed in your civilian job if you leave that job to perform service in the uniformed service and:

* you ensure that your employer receives advance written or verbal notice of your service;
* you have five years or less of cumulative service in the uniformed services while with that particular employer;

* you return to work or apply for re-employment in a timely manner after conclusion of service; and

* you have not been separated from service with a disqualifying discharge or under other than honorable conditions.

If you are eligible to be re-employed, you must be restored to the job you had when you left and given benefits you would have attained if you had not been absent due to military service or, in some cases, given a comparable job.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao announced the rules interpreting the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act during a speech at the National Press Club. She said 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, Ms. Chao said, when the United States has the largest group of mobilized guardsmen and reservists since World War II. Since 9/11, almost 530,000 reserve-component people have been mobilized, many for more than a year of duty. As of the first of January, more than 2,500 Air Force Reservists were mobilized.

“Our citizen-soldiers put themselves in harm’s way to defend our freedoms, and now it’s our turn to be there for them,” Ms. 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.”

The new rules, drafted in an easy-to-read question-and-answer format and published in the Federal Register, explain how the USERRA law protects against discrimination and retaliation because of military service and prevents service members from suffering civilian job setbacks because of their military obligations. The law also ensures that guardsmen and reservists have ample time to report back to their civilian jobs after completing their military duty.

Implementing rules that enforce the USERRA law benefits guardsmen and reservists as well as their employers, said Maj. Rob Palmer, a public affairs officer with the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.

“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, em-ployer support is critical to U.S. national interests, Major Palmer said. But making the relationship work “is not a one-way street,” he said. Guards-men 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,” Major Palmer said.

Work-related complaints from returning guardsmen and reservists are down 30 percent since their last major deployment in the early 1990s. Officials said this is largely due to the efforts of the Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, and solid support from employers.

During Operation Desert Storm, one in 54 mobilized troops filed work-related complaints with the Labor Department, officials said. During the war on terrorism, the rate has dropped to one in 81.

Officials said they hope this trend continues and they see the new USERRA rules as a big step toward that end.

Information about USERRA is available on the Labor Department’s Web site at http://www.dol.gov/vets/regs/fedreg/final/ and on the ESGR Web site at http://www.esgr.org/employers2/thelaw.asp?c=userra.html.

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