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We don't often think of soldiers as a protected class -- probably because the role of the soldier is to protect. But people who served in the military are protected from employment discrimination in American law, and there is in fact a strong statute, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) of 1994, that provides bases for liability that other protected classes do not have.
USERRA for Employers
USERRA applies to all private and public employers no matter what size. The statute exists to assist soldiers who come home from military service -- often after years abroad in traumatic situations -- and who experience employment discrimination in hiring or re-hiring. It also makes employers liable for failing to accommodate a service person's disability, as well as establishes time limits and the means of counting time for soldiers who must leave a job to fulfill short or long-term military obligations.
In sum, the Act makes it easier for soldiers to manage the double lives they must lead. But what's especially interesting about this statute is that it makes individual managers personally liable for discrimination against military service people. That means managers can be made to pay personally for damages due as a result of a soldier's successful USERRA claim.
It should also be noted that the Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) will investigate USERRA claims on behalf of soldiers. If the agency is unable to resolve the claim, it may be referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution at no cost to the plaintiff-soldier.
According to VETS, about a quarter of complaints that the agency fielded were for improper reinstatement of soldiers into civilian jobs after military service. The latest figures available on USERRA are from 2013 and show that there were over 1300 complaints filed on the basis of this statute in that year.
Confused About What to Do?
If you are an employer, you absolutely must become familiar with the basic provisions of USERRA and the principles that statute stands for. It is of course difficult to stay abreast of all developments in your industry and track employment law, so consult with an attorney. A lawyer can help you understand your obligations as an employer and can guide you when there is trouble.
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