USERRA is the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. In short, it creates protections for uniformed servicemembers to keep their civilian jobs during a deployment or training period. USERRA was established in 1994 and serves as a clarification and addition to the Veteran’s Reemployment Rights (VRR) Statute. The aim of USERRA is to ensure that individuals who serve (or who have served) do not suffer a disadvantage in civilian employment as a result of their service.
Key components include:
- An individual may be absent from work for military duties for up to 5 (cumulative) years while still having reemployment protection with an individual employer.
- An initial enlistment of more than 5 years is also covered.
- Periodic training, such as National Guard and reserves, can continue for more than 5 years.
- Involuntary duty extensions are also covered.
- Reemployment protection involves ensuring that a returning servicemember is reemployed in the same job they would have been in had they not left for service—including any seniority benefits that would have been attained during that time.
- Reasonable efforts need to be taken to assist returning servicemembers in ensuring their skills are up-to-date to qualify for such employment. This typically includes providing training or refresher training—including training needed for the individual to move into the position he or she would have attained during the absence.
- The time away from the job should be considered the same as any nonmilitary leave of absence when it comes to other employee rights.
- Healthcare coverage is also included:
- For military duty lasting more than 30 days, the individual may opt to stay on the employer’s health plan for up to 24 months, but may be required to pay up to 102 percent of the full premium.
- For military duty of less than 31 days, healthcare coverage does not change; it stays as though the individual remained employed.
- If coverage is not kept during the service period, then there is a right of reinstatement upon reemployment without waiting periods.
- Pension plans stay in place, including any seniority benefits related to the plan.
- Discrimination and retaliation based on military status are prohibited. This includes refusal to hire or rehire, refusal to promote, or the withholding of any other employment benefit based on military status. It also applies to individuals who assist with enforcing USERRA rights, even if those individuals have not served in the military.
- The rights and protections extend to all individuals who serve or served as well as to individuals who apply for membership in a uniformed service position while employed.
- Reasonable accommodations must be made for disabled returning servicemembers.
For the service men and women to whom these regulations apply, there are also individual responsibilities:
- If possible, the individual must give the employer advance notice (either oral or in writing) of upcoming military duty. It should be as much notice as possible or reasonable in the circumstances.
- The individual has the option—but is not obligated—to use his or her vacation or other paid annual leave time while on duty.
- After returning from duty, there are specified time frames in which the individual must apply for his or her reemployment. The exact details depend on the length of time away on military duty:
- If away for less than 30 days, the person must report back on the next available workday after coming home (assuming at least an 8-hour rest period before the start of the workday).
- If away for more than 31 days, but less than 180 days, the individual has 2 weeks to reapply.
- If away for more than 180 days, the application must be made within 90 days of release from service.
- Upon request, after service periods of 31 or more days, the individual may be required to provide documentation about the service to show the length and nature of the deployment and the timeliness of the application for reemployment.
- The rights above may no longer apply if the individual is dishonorably discharged from service.
Employers should ensure that employees who have rights under USERRA are made aware of these rights. This can be done through public postings or through other means—the key is to ensure that any employee who is entitled to USERRA rights is informed.
This article does not constitute legal advice. Always consult legal counsel with specific questions.
About Bridget Miller:
Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.