Most California employers know that federal laws prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex and several other categories, but they may not be aware that workers in military service are among the workers protected.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), however, protects servicemembers in their reemployment following service in the armed forces. A recent court case illustrates how the law’s specific provisions involve an in-depth analysis to fulfill its objective.
USERRA applies differently for every service member
The plaintiff, an entry-level longshore worker, left his job to enlist in the Air Force. Nine years later, he returned and requested a promotion he claimed he would have reached had he not served. Under USERRA, eligible servicemembers must receive “prompt reemployment” and “benefits” upon completion of service. A collective bargaining agreement implemented the provisions of USERRA.
A lower court denied the plaintiff had lost any ”benefit of employment.” In its analysis, the appeals court reasoned that USERRA applies differently to each specific case. The calculation-of-hours model the collective bargaining used would have placed him in a position to have earned a promotion had he worked those hours. Furthermore, it held that other provisions of USERRA showed the plaintiff eligible for benefits.
Ultimately, the court returned the case to the lower court on a factual dispute regarding a provision of USERRA under which benefits do not apply to those whose absence of service exceeds five years. The plaintiff’s service included nine years of continuous active duty between 2004 and April 2013. The defendants argued that the plaintiff had exceeded the five-year length-of-service provision.
California has a significant military presence
Issues concerning reemployment for servicemembers could remain significant given the recent economic developments. Statistics reveal that California has more than 150,000 active-duty service members. When they occur, those discharges will indirectly impact an equal number of active-duty spouses and children.
California families with ties to the military want nothing more than their fathers, mothers, sons and daughters to return healthy. When they do, they also want to resume a normal civilian life. Attorneys who understand the law regarding reemployment for servicemembers can offer guidance.