The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is a federal law that applies to all employers and is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Veterans Employment and Training Service. USERRA prohibits employers from denying any benefit of employment on the basis of an individual’s membership, application for membership, performance of service, application for service, or obligation for service in the uniformed services.
Some states also have laws regarding employment rights for members of the armed services and may include more requirements and restrictions than USERRA, including rights for family members of military personnel.
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USERRA also protects the right of veterans, reservists, National Guard members, and certain other members of the uniformed services to reclaim their civilian employment after being absent because of military service or training.
Employees or the attorney general acting on their behalf can sue for lost wages, benefits, reinstatement, attorneys’ fees, or liquidated damages for willful violations.
USERRA allows individuals who leave their jobs to undertake military service and other emergency workers deployed to return to their jobs once their service is over. USERRA also prohibits employers from discriminating against past and present members of the uniformed services, as well as individuals in the process of applying to the uniformed services.
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Employees seeking job or benefits protection under USERRA have a number of responsibilities to their employers and other requirements before they qualify for such protection. Employees must have five years or less of cumulative service in the uniformed services while with any one particular employer; return to work or apply for reemployment in a timely manner after conclusion of service; and must not have been dishonorably discharged.
But the door swings both ways – because when an employee meets the USERRA requirements, employers must restore the employee’s job and benefits that would have been attained if the employee hadn’t been absent because of the stint in military service.
Employers also must be wary of violating USERRA by discriminating against applicants or current employees. Retaliating against such employees, which includes testifying or making a statement in connection with a proceeding under USERRA, also is strictly forbidden and punishable under the Act. That applies even to individuals who haven’t served in the military.
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