The following is a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act:
1. Is there a law governing a servicemember's right to reemployment after completion of military training or service?
Yes. Since 1940, there has been such a law, known as the Veterans' Reemployment Rights (VRR). On October 13, 1994, President Clinton signed the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act -- a comprehensive revision of the VRR, USERRA became fully effective December 12, 1994, and is contained in Title 38, United States Code, at chapter 43. (Sections 4301 through 4333)
2. Who is eligible for reemployment rights under USERRA following military service?
The individual must meet five conditions, or "eligibility criteria." The individual:
- must hold or have applied for a civilian job. (Note: Jobs employers can show to be held for a brief, nonrecurrent period with no reasonable expectation of continuing for a significant period do not qualify for protection.)
- must have given written or verbal notice to the civilian employer prior to leaving the job for military training or service except when precluded by military necessity.
- must not have exceeded the 5-year cumulative limit on periods of service.
- must have been released from service under conditions other than dishonorable.
- must report back to the civilian job in a timely manner or submit a timely application for reemployment.
3. Are there reemployment rights following voluntary military service? State callups?
USERRA applies to voluntary as well as involuntary military service, in peacetime as well as wartime. However, like the VRR law, USERRA does not apply to state callups of the National Guard for disaster relief, riots, etc. Any protection for such duty must be provided by the laws of the state or territory involved.
4. When is prior notice to the civilian employer required? How is such notice to be given?
The person who is performing the service (or an official representative of the uniformed service) must give advance written or verbal notice to the employer. The notice requirement applies to all categories of training or service. Notice is not required if precluded by military necessity or, if the giving of such notice is otherwise impossible or unreasonable.
A determination of military necessity shall be made pursuant to regulations prescribed by the Department of Defense. It is reasonable to expect that situations where notice is not required will be rare. The law does not specify how much advance notice is required, but the Department of Defense advises members of the National Guard and Reserve that they should provide their employers as much advance notice as they can.
5. Is an employer entitled to proof that military duty actually performed?
Yes. USERRA provides that following periods of military service of 31 days or more, the returning employee must, upon the employer's request, provide documentation that establishes length and character of the service and the timeliness of the application for reemployment. Reemployment may not be delayed, however, if such documentation does not exist or is not readily available. In general, the following documents have been determined by the Secretary of Labor to satisfy proof of eligibility for reemployment: discharge papers, leave and earnings statements, school completion certificate, endorsed orders, or a letter from a proper military authority. While USERRA does not address documentation of shorter periods of military service, if doubt exists, an employer could contact the employee's military command with questions about a specific period of service.
6. How is the 5-year limit computed?
Service in the uniformed services, except the types of service described below, counts toward the cumulative 5-year limit of military service a person can perform while retaining rights under USERRA. When a person starts a new job with a new employer, he or she receives a fresh 5-year entitlement. Duty performed prior to the effective date of USERRA is addressed in question #8. USERRA's cumulative 5-year limit does not include certain kinds of military training or service. Exceptions to the 5-year limit can be grouped into three broad categories:
- Unable (through no fault of the individual) to obtain release from service or service in excess of five years to fulfill an initial period of obligated service (generally imposed on Active component aviators or others who undergo extensive initial training in certain technical military specialties).
- Required drills and annual training and other training duty certified by the military to be necessary for professional development or skill training/retraining.
- Service performed during time of war or national emergency or for other critical missions/contingencies/military requirements. Involuntary service of this type is exempt from the 5-year limit. Voluntary service in support of the mission/contingency/military requirement is also exempt.
7. Can an employee be required to use earned vacation while performing military service?
No. A person may not be forced to use earned vacation. Employees are entitled to earned vacation or leave in addition to time off to perform military service. A rare exception would be a case where there is a standard plant shutdown at a certain time of year and all employees must take their vacations during that period and an employee's period of military service happens to coincide with that period.
8. Under USERRA can a person serve an additional five years and have reemployment rights?
Not necessarily. USERRA provides that military service performed prior to December 12, 1994, will count toward the USERRA 5-year limit if it counted against the limits contained in the old law.
9. How much time off is an employee entitled to prior to reporting for military service?
Although an exact amount of time is not specified in USERRA, an employee, at a minimum, needs to be given sufficient time to travel to the place where the military duty is to be performed.
10. What is the time frame within which a person has to report back to work or apply for reinstatement?
For periods of service of up to 30 consecutive days, the person must report back to work for the first full regularly scheduled work period on the first full calendar day following the completion of the period of service and safe transportation home, plus an 8-hour period for rest. If reporting back within this deadline is "impossible or unreasonable" through no fault of the employee, he or she must report back as soon as possible after the expiration of the 8-hour period.
After a period of service of 31-180 days, the person must submit a written or verbal application for reemployment with the employer not later than 14 days after the completion of the period of service. If submitting the application within 14 days is impossible or unreasonable through no fault of the employee, he or she must submit the application as soon as possible thereafter.
After a period of service of 181 days or more, the person must submit an application for reemployment not later than 90 days after completion of the period of service. These deadlines to report to work or apply for reemployment can be extended up to two years to accommodate a period during which a person was hospitalized for or convalescing from an injury or illness that occurred or was aggravated during a period of military service.
In either case, the person does not automatically forfeit the right to reemployment, but will be "subject to the conduct rules, established policy, and general practices of the employer pertaining to explanations and discipline with respect to absence from scheduled work."
11. Does USERRA give a person the right to benefits from the civilian employer during military service?
Yes. USERRA gives an employee the right to elect continued health insurance coverage, for himself or herself and his or her dependents, during periods of military service. For periods of up to 30 days of training or service, the employer can require the person to pay only the normal employee share, if any, of the cost of such coverage. For longer tours, the employer is permitted to charge the person up to 102 percent of the entire premium. If the employee elects coverage, the right to that coverage ends on the day after the deadline for him or her to apply for reemployment or 24 months after the absence from the civilian job began, whichever comes first.
USERRA gives an employee and previously covered dependents the right to immediate reinstatement of civilian health insurance coverage upon return to the civilian job. The health plan cannot impose a waiting period and cannot exclude the returning employee based on preexisting conditions (other than for those conditions determined by the Federal government to be service-connected). This right is not contingent on an election to continue coverage during the period of service.
To the extent that an employer offers other non-seniority benefits (e.g., holiday pay or life insurance coverage) to employees on furlough or a leave of absence, the employer is required to provide those same benefits to an employee during a period of service in the uniformed services. If the employer's treatment of persons on leaves of absence varies according to the kind of leave (e.g., jury duty, educational, etc.), the comparison should be made with the employer's most generous form of leave. Of course, you must compare periods of comparable length. An employee may waive his or her rights to these other non-seniority benefits by knowingly stating, in writing, his or her intent not to return to work. However, such statement does not waive any other rights provided by USERRA.
12. What is an employer required to provide to a returning servicemember upon reemployment?
There are four basic entitlements (if the eligibility criteria in answer #2 are met):
- Prompt reinstatement (generally a matter of days, not weeks, but will depend on the length of absence).
- Accrued seniority, as if continuously employed. This applies to rights and benefits determined by seniority as well. This includes status, rate of pay, pension vesting, and credit for the period for pension benefit computations.
- Training or retraining and other accommodations. This would be particularly applicable in case of a long period of absence or service-connected disability.
- Special protection against discharge, except for cause. The period of this protection is 180 days following periods of service of 31-180 days. For periods of service of 181 days or more, it is one year.
13. Is the returning employee always entitled to have the same job back?
No. USERRA provides that, if the period of service was less than 91 days, the person is entitled to the job he or she would have attained absent the military service, provided the person is, or can become, qualified for that job. If unable to become qualified for a new job after reasonable efforts by the employer, the person is entitled to the job he or she left.
For periods of service of 91 days or more, the employer may reemploy the returning employee as above (i.e., position that would have been attained or position left), or in a position of "like seniority, status and pay" the duties which the person is qualified to perform.
14. What if a person is not qualified for the reemployment position?
If a person has been gone from the civilian job for months or years, civilian job skills may have been dulled by a long period without use. A person must be (or become) qualified to do the job to have reemployment rights, but USERRA requires the employer to make "reasonable efforts" to qualify that person. "Reasonable efforts" means actions, including training, that don't cause undue hardship to the employer. If a person can't become qualified in the positions described in #13 after reasonable efforts by the employer, and if not disabled, the person must be employed in any other position of lesser status and pay, which he or she is qualified to perform, with full seniority.
15. What if a returning servicemember is disabled?
USERRA also requires the employer to make "reasonable efforts" to accommodate persons with a disability incurred or aggravated during military service. If a person returns from military service and is suffering from a disability that cannot be accommodated by reasonable employer efforts, the employer is to reemploy the person in some other position he or she is qualified to perform and which is the "nearest approximation" of the position to which the person is otherwise entitled, in terms of status and pay, with full seniority.
A disability need not be permanent to confer rights under USERRA. For example, if a person breaks a leg during annual training, the employer may have an obligation to make reasonable efforts to accommodate the broken leg, or to place the person in another position, until the leg has healed.
16. How does the law address discrimination by an employer or prospective employer?
Section 4311(a) of USERRA says: "A person who is a member of, applies to be a member of, performs, has performed, applies to perform, or has an obligation to perform service in the uniformed services shall not be denied initial employment, reemployment, retention in employment, promotion, or any benefit of employment by an employer on the basis of that membership, application for membership, performance of service, application for service, or obligation."
Section 4311(c)(1) further provides: "An employer may not discriminate in employment against or take any adverse employment action against any person because such person has taken an action to enforce a protection afforded any person under this chapter, has testified or otherwise made a statement in or in connection with any proceeding under this chapter, has assisted or otherwise participated in an investigation under this chapter, or has exercised a right provided for in this chapter."
These two provisions provide a very broad protection against employer discrimination, much broader than the VRR law provided. The second provision prohibits, for the first time, reprisals against any person, without regard to military connection, who testifies or otherwise assists in an investigation or other proceeding under USERRA.
17. Who has the burden of proof in discrimination cases?
The employer or prospective employer. USERRA provides that a denial of employment or an adverse action taken by an employer will be unlawful if a service connection was a motivating factor (not necessarily the only factor) in the denial or adverse action "unless the employer can prove that the action would have been taken in the absence of such membership, application for membership or obligation."
18. Where do I go for information or assistance?
Employers should contact the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (NCESGR). You can contact a NCESGR ombudsman toll-free at (800) 336-4590. Ombudsmen are trained to provide information and informal mediation services concerning civilian job rights of National Guard and Reserve members. As mediators, they act as neutrals, with a goal of helping bring about solutions to conflicts that are legal and equitable to each of the parties involved.
Sometimes, employers are particularly inconvenienced by the timing of proposed military duty by an employee-Reservist. For example, a scheduled drill weekend by a "key" employee may disrupt a major project, special product promotion, annual inventory, etc.
In such cases, NCESGR suggests employers contact the military commander involved to seek relief from the impending hardship. Experience has shown that commanders are sensitive to employer concerns and can often assist, when military requirements permit, by rescheduling the proposed military duty or assigning someone else to perform it. Check the National Committee for Employer Support of Guard and Reserve. You can also download the Department of Labor's USERRA guide in PDF format.