When our nation is fighting a war, most Americans rally around the troops — the men and women who serve in the armed forces. Unfortunately, not all of our troops can count on unconditional support from their civilian employers. For financial reasons or out of prejudice, a few employers each year fire, demote or otherwise penalize employees who are called away by an obligation to serve in the armed forces.
Fortunately, federal law protects the troops from this type of firing with a law called the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), which requires employers to reemploy workers called away for up to five years of military service; preserve an employee’s benefits while he or she is gone; preserves his or her seniority; and requires employers to reasonably accommodate a disabled veteran. Employees can file a claim for violations of USERRA through the government or through the courts.
USERRA applies to every public and private employer in our nation and to everyone in the “uniformed services” — all five branches of the military, including Reserves; the National Guard; the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service; and some employees of the National Disaster Medical System. The law prohibits employers from firing, refusing to hire or rehire, refusing to promote or denying benefits to any employee on the basis of military service. It also prohibits retaliation against employees who exercise their rights under USERRA. Employees who leave their jobs are entitled under the law to choose to retain job benefits like pension, vacation and health insurance, although they may be required to pay up to 102% of any health premium.
Once employees return to civilian life, they are entitled under USERRA to be rehired, as long as they were absent for fewer than five cumulative years (with some exceptions), were not dishonorably discharged, and gave the employer advance notice of their absences (when possible). Employers are required to reinstate the employees’ jobs at the job level they would have attained if they had never left. They must also make reasonable accommodations for disabled veterans. The returning service members have a set length of time in which they must reapply for their jobs; these periods vary according to how long the service members were gone and any illness or injury they must recover from before returning to work.
Employees with a USERRA complaint may lodge an informal complaint with the Department of Defense (whose decisions are not binding) or a formal complaint with the Department of Labor. If a Department of Labor complaint doesn’t solve the dispute, they may ask the federal Department of Justice to represent them in a federal lawsuit against their employer. The Louthian Law Firm can represent and advise you during this process. But if the government chooses not to take the case, or if you don’t wish to wait that long, you may also file a lawsuit under USERRA using private attorneys like The Louthian Law Firm, regardless of whether you filed any formal complaints. This is the fastest option and may be the most effective when dealing with an employer who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that it violated the law. In a USERRA lawsuit, you can win back the job and job status you lost; any wages and benefits illegally denied to you; double damages for any willful violation of the law; and attorney fees.
Veterans shouldn’t be penalized for serving their country. Firing, demoting or retaliating against someone because of military service isn’t just wrong — it’s also illegal. If you or someone you care about is a victim of a USERRA violation, you should contact the South Carolina USERRA Lawsuit Lawyers at Louthian Law Firm as soon as possible. We have represented South Carolinians with employment troubles since 1959 and we have the experience and knowledge to win you the best possible results in court. For an evaluation of your case, call us today at (803) 454-1200 or fill out the online consultation form.