FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday - October 1, 2004
RALEIGH - In a news release issued on Wednesday, September 29, 2004 (copy attached), the U. S. Department of Justice announced that Attorney General John Ashcroft and Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao had signed an agreement to improve job protection for returning Guardsmen and Reservists. According to the release, their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) will "ensure that the employment rights of men and women returning from military service are vigorously protected. Specifically, the MOU streamlines and strengthens enforcement of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). Congress passed USERRA to safeguard the employment rights and benefits of service members upon their return to civilian life."
United States Attorney Frank D. Whitney applauded the announcement by DOJ and reminded employers of individuals who are with the National Guard or Reserves that they should be aware of their obligations and their employees' rights under the USERRA. "Under various laws of the United States," he said, "soldiers who are called upon to serve have certain protections in both their employment and in their financial affairs. These laws also serve to assist in protecting the families of service personnel from some financial hardships during the time of a family member's deployment."
According to USA Whitney, there are approximately 1.35 million Guard and Reservists in the United States who serve their country with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. Due to the presence of nine active military installations in the Eastern District of North Carolina, a disproportionate number of Guard and Reservists live and work in North Carolina.
USERRA is a federal law that applies to all employers, no matter how many employees they may have. This law prohibits discrimination against employees as a result of their service to our country. This law also intends to minimize the disruption that such service may cause both employees and employers.
USA Whitney said that under USERRA, National Guard personnel or Reservists must not be denied initial employment or reemployment upon return from service, promotion, or any benefit of employment on the basis of their membership or obligation in the uniformed service, including during a period of war or national emergency.
USA Whitney said, "As all of us well know, the citizen soldier has been ready on-call to leave home and protect our nation since the founding of our Republic. Although the United States has the greatest standing military force in the world today, that force cannot accomplish its mission of protecting liberty without the support and augmentation of citizen soldiers, whether from the Army or Air National Guard or from the Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, or Coast Guard Reserve. When citizen soldiers leave their families and civilian employment to protect our liberty, we have an obligation to them to protect their legal rights."
In an effort to publicize those rights, the U. S. Attorney's Office prepared a handbook, entitled "Employment Rights of the National Guard and Reserve," which was introduced at a news conference in Raleigh on July 9, 2003. The handbook summarizes and explains in plain language the legal rights of citizen soldiers under three federal statutes: the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA); the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act (SSCRA); and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
According to USA Whitney, the handbook
(in hard copy or CD format) may be obtained by contacting his office at
919/856-4530, or by visiting the U. S. Attorney's web page at www.usdoj.gov/usao/nce.
Additional sites for related information include: www.esgr.org
(The National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve
(ESGR)) and www.dol.gov/vets
(The U. S. Department of Labor Veterans Employment and Training Service
In addition, on September 20, 2004, the U. S. Department of Labor proposed regulations providing guidance on USERRA and its employment protections for National Guard personnel and Reservists. The proposed regulations were published in the Federal Register for September 20, 2004.