President Barack Obama has proclaimed this week National Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Week, a time to acknowledge the efforts and sacrifices of the over 1 million Reservists and members of the National Guard who stand ready to answer the call and put themselves in harm’s way for the greater good of all Americans. As President Obama stated, “These citizen-Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen deserve the full backing of their civilian employers and the promise of a secure and stable life here at home.” That’s why, when civilian employers don’t live up to their obligation to support their employee Reservists and National Guardsmen, the Department of Justice is here to protect those employees’ rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).
USERRA is a federal law that prohibits civilian employers from harassing, discriminating and retaliating against their employees who are also Reservists and National Guardsmen. Under USERRA, a civilian employer can’t refuse to hire, promote, retain or provide job benefits to an employee because of their past, present or future military service. USERRA also provides for continued job benefits, like health insurance and annual leave, for Reservists and National Guardsmen during periods of military service. In addition, the act requires civilian employers to promptly reemploy Reservists and National Guardsmen following a period of military service. Finally, USERRA requires that covered employees be reemployed in a position that is similar in seniority, status and pay to the job that the employee had prior to their service.
Individuals who believe that they have been discriminated against because of their military service or have been denied reemployment following a period of military service have other, sometimes simpler, means of reporting their disputes. One option is to reach out to the Department of Defense’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) program at 1-800-336-4590. ESGR’s goal is to resolve the matter through mediation and other efforts. Another alternative is to file a complaint with the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS). If VETS is unable to resolve the complaint, the DOL may then refer the claim to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice in turn brings federal USERRA lawsuits on behalf of Reservists and National Guardsmen in connection with the investigative files it receives from VETS.
Since 2004, the Department of Justice has filed 97 USERRA lawsuits, with 65 of those suits filed since 2009.
USERRA enforcement is an important part of the Justice Department’s responsibility to the nation’s men and women in uniform. Through the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, the Department of Justice is working hard to safeguard the rights of those who fight to protect U.S. liberties. For all of America’s Reservists and Guardsmen, the Department of Justice stands ready to help and joins the Department of Defense and employers around the country in celebrating National Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Week.