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USERRA – Protecting Firefighters Rights

A recent case in New York involving a police officer, taking 10 years to resolve, revives a sleepy law we do not hear much about called the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).

This case (Wright v. City of Jamestown), involved an Army Reserve officer with the Jamestown (NY) police department initially filed his USERRA claim against the department in 2007 after he was denied vacation time and a promotion within the department due to his military commitment.

He had returned from a 2004 deployment in Iraq when he first filed the claim, and then he served two six-month deployments to Afghanistan, beginning in 2009.

This like other USERRA cases clarifies and strengthens the Veterans' Reemployment Rights (VRR) Statute particularly in New York but equally applicable in other States.

If you are in a reserve or active duty status, you must be aware of your protections under USERRA protecting those firefighters who are in active military reserve, National Guard or other military service obligations during their course of employment as a fire firefighter. There are multiple cases across the country, not receiving much notoriety, but important to the aggrieved firefighter and family.  

The Department of Labor has issued regulations that clarify its position on the rights of returning service members to family and medical leave under USERRA and the Act itself can be found in the United States Code at Chapter 43, Part III, Title 38.

USERRA is intended to minimize the disadvantages to an individual that occur when that person needs to be absent from his or her civilian employment to serve in this country's uniformed services. USERRA makes major improvements in protecting service member rights and benefits by clarifying the law and improving enforcement mechanisms. It also provides employees with Department of Labor assistance in processing claims.

USERRA covers virtually every individual in the country who serves in or has served in the uniformed services and applies to all employers in the public and private sectors, including Federal employers. The law seeks to ensure that those who serve their country can retain their civilian employment and benefits, and can seek employment free from discrimination because of their service. USERRA provides protection for disabled veterans, requiring employers to make reasonable efforts to accommodate the disability.

A snapshot of the protections under USERRA are:

  • You have the right to be reemployed in your civilian job if you leave that job to perform service in the uniformed service and:
  • You ensure that your employer receives advance written or verbal notice of your service;
  • You have five years or less of cumulative service in the uniformed services while with that particular employer;
  • You return to work or apply for reemployment in a timely manner after conclusion of service; and
  • You have not been separated from service with a disqualifying discharge or under other than honorable conditions.
  •  If you are eligible to be reemployed, you must be restored to the job and benefits you would have attained if you had not been absent due to military service or, in some cases, a comparable job.

You also have the right to be free from Discrimination and Retaliation If you:

  • Are a past or present member of the uniformed service;
  • Have applied for membership in the uniformed service; or
  • Are obligated to serve in the uniformed service;

Then an employer may not deny you:

  • Initial employment;
  • Reemployment;
  • Retention in employment;
  • Promotion; or
  • Any benefit of employment

 USERRA is an important protection for our firefighter serving in the military. Please respect their rights when deployed and return to work.

Endnotes

https://www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/userra_fs.htm

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