America's military is relying more and more on reservists and other part-time soldiers to accomplish its many missions. While these troops are proud to serve wherever they are called, there is no doubt that a lengthy tour of active duty, away from one's regular employment, can be a burden on both the soldier and his or her family. There are a number of legal protections for Reservists and Guard members called to active duty, to help ease that burden.
The Right to Re-Employment
A major concern of those called to active military duty is getting their old jobs back once they return to civilian life. An employee who is called to military duty is considered to be on unpaid leave of absence. Federal law provides that you have the right to be re-employed in the job you would have if you had not been called to active duty (more on this important federal law below). You are entitled to the same salary and other benefits that come with seniority, although there are some limitations on this right to re-employment.
The Re-Application Process
A returning Guard member or Reservist who wants his or her old job back must reapply for the job. If the absence has been for less than thirty-one days, the employee must report for work at the beginning of the next regular work period on the first full day following release from duty, with time for travel home, and an eight-hour rest period. If the absence has been for more than thirty-one, but less than 181 days, the returning employee must submit an application for reemployment within fourteen days of being released from service. If the absence due to military service has been longer than 180 days, reapplication must be made within ninety days of the service member's release from duty. The maximum absence that will allow a service member to retain reemployment rights is five years.
An employee who is absent for thirty days or less can continue his or her medical coverage, at the same cost, during the time of service. Service of more than thirty days will give the service member and his or her dependents coverage under the military health care plan.
An absence for military service is not to be considered a break in your employment. A service member who returns to his or her former employment is entitled to re-enroll in the employer's medical or health insurance plan. No waiting period or period of exclusion may be imposed. A health plan sponsored by an employer is not, however, required to provide coverage for injuries or illnesses caused or aggravated by military service (those injuries are generally covered by military health coverage).
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) is intended to minimize the disadvantages to an individual that occur when a service member needs to be absent from his or her civilian employment to serve in this country's uniformed services. USERRA makes major improvements in protecting service members' rights and benefits by clarifying the law and improving enforcement mechanisms. Specifically, USERRA expands the cumulative length of time that an individual may be absent from work for uniformed services duty and retain reemployment rights.
Who is Covered?
USERRA potentially covers every individual in the country who serves in or has served in the uniformed services, and applies to all employers in the public and private sectors, including federal employers. The law seeks to ensure that those who serve their country can retain their civilian employment and benefit, and can seek employment free from discrimination because of their service. USERRA provides enhanced protection for disabled veterans, requiring that employers make reasonable efforts to accommodate the disability. To learn more about your rights under USERRA, visit the U.S. Department of Labor's interactive "USERRA Advisor."
Legal Help with Military Leave Issues
There is no question that being called to active duty is a hardship on both the service member, and on his or her family. Federal laws that relate to reemployment and continuation of benefits can help ease some of that burden. If you are a service member (or the loved one of a service member) with questions about military leave and your rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), contact an experienced employees' rights attorney in your area.