Yes. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) of 1994 protects civilian job rights and benefits for veterans and members of the military reserves. As long as basic eligibility requirements are met, the service member is protected regardless of the timing, frequency, duration or nature of his or her service.
To meet the requirements, the service member must:
- Have a civilian job;
- Inform the employer that he or she is leaving for uniformed service;
- Not exceed a cumulative five-year absence (with certain exceptions);
- Have been released under "honorable conditions;"
- Report back to the employer in a timely manner and timely reapply for employment.
Exceptions to the five year limit include:
- If the service member is unable, through no fault of their own, to be released from service, or;
- If he or she is serving an initial tour of duty including training, or during
wartime, involuntarily summoned to duty.
In addition, weekend drills and two-week annual training periods for the Guard and Reserves are also exempt from the five-year cumulative time limit.
Under USERRA the employer is required to continue the employee’s benefits at the same employee share that nonmilitary workers pay. The coverage ends either the day after they have returned from service and should have reported back to the employer, or 18 months, whichever is sooner. If the health care coverage is interrupted, or the employee elects not to maintain coverage, upon return to the same job, he or she is not required to complete any initial waiting period. In other words, the employer must reinstate benefits immediately upon rehire.
Of course, if the employee had been in service for an extended period of time, civilian job skills may have dulled. The employer is required to provide appropriate training so long as it does not cause undue hardship to the employer. In addition, there may be times when a key employee is required to report for a scheduled drill weekend, and to release the employee would result in hardship to the employer. In these cases the employer is encouraged to call the ombudsman at the National Committee for Employee Support of Guard and Reserve.
So, when your employee comes into your office Tuesday morning and says, “I just got called to go to Iraq,” take a minute to review the requirements of the USERRA and assure compliance.