Q&A With Zachary A.P. Oubre
Veterans have job rights
Q: What do employers need to know about reinstating military veterans who return from active duty?
A: Under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), employers are required to reinstate former vets if they gave proper notice to their employer in advance of their departure; their tour of service was less than five years; they make a timely request for re-employment, accompanied by proper documentation; and their separation from military service was under “honorable” conditions.
Q: Are employers required to rehire veterans for the same position as when they left for active duty?
A: The law requires employers to re-employ veterans in the job they would have attained had they not left for active military duty, with the same seniority, pay and other benefits determined by seniority. USERRA also requires employers to make reasonable efforts to help returning vets make the transition back to their former jobs at the same proficiency level. In most cases, this means providing training or refresher courses.
Q: What are the penalties for violating the law?
A: Employers who violate the law should expect to reinstate the employee and, in many cases, pay court-ordered back pay and damages. In one recent federal court case, a U.S. Army reservist was awarded nearly $300,000 in back pay and damages when his former employer, a police department in Tennessee, failed to immediately reinstate him to his former position as a patrol sergeant. Although the returning veteran met all four qualifications of USERRA, the police department put him through the return-to-work process it applied to all employees returning from extended leave and assigned him a desk job instead of his former patrol sergeant position. The employee filed suit after he was terminated for violating the department's written policy against dishonesty — specifically, he was found to have been less than forthcoming about circumstances surrounding his honorable discharge. While the court acknowledged the employer had a right to terminate an employee for violating company policy after his job had been fully restored, the court ruled the employer did not have to the right to limit or delay the officer's re-employment “by requiring him to comply with its return-to-work process.”
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER