The idea of a California employer firing someone because he or she was called up for military duty seems outrageous to many people. When the employer is part of the federal government, it is almost unbelievable. However, that’s what happened to a National Guardsman employed by the U.S. Postal Service. Now the USPS has been ordered to reinstate him and to reimburse him for 13 years of back wages, benefits, interest and legal costs – all of which could add up to more than $2 million.
The Sergeant Major, a decorated member of the Special Forces, joined the National Guard after he started working for the USPS. He took a military leave that kept him away from his civilian job for several years. However, according to the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, employees are allowed up to five years of leave for military service without risking their job. The USPS, who argued that their employee had “abandoned” his job, fired him in 2000 while he was serving on a Special Forces operation. He admits he “thought it was a joke at first.”
Now the Sergeant Major says he’s met other service members who have lost their jobs while fulfilling their military service duties, despite the law designed to protect them. He says he hopes this decision will discourage other employers from doing that and incentivize others who are victims of wrongful termination to take action. He notes the sad irony of being sent to fight for your country and then having to come home and “fight your employer for your job.”
This recent decision by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board is not the first time it has ordered the USPS to reinstate the plaintiff. They did so in 2012. However, the USPS appealed the decision and failed to reinstate him as they were told to do while the appeal was pending. This latest decision, according to the board, is its final one. It has given the USPS 60 days to comply. However, the 50-year-old Sergeant Major isn’t sure he wants his old job back at this point.
As we have seen on many occasions, despite a myriad of laws enacted to protect employees, there will always be employers who fail to abide by them, either knowingly or unknowingly. People who believe they have been fired for illegal reasons can and should seek justice through the legal system.
Source: Stars and Stripes, “Postal Service ordered to reinstate GI, potentially pay millions in back pay, fees” Chris Carroll, Jan. 03, 2014