Today, we pause to remember and thank all the brave men and women who have served in our armed forces. When called, these men and women have left their family, friends, and civilian jobs to defend our freedoms. Especially after a deployment, these men and women face plenty of challenges in returning to their “normal” daily lives; however, hoping that they still have their job shouldn’t be one of them.
A federal law, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) was passed in 1994 to protect uniformed service members from discrimination and retaliation and to provide reemployment rights to service members who leave their job to perform military service. So long as the service member complies with a few requirements (advance notice to employer of service, return to work in a timely manner after conclusion of service, no dishonorable discharge), their employer must restore the employee to the job and benefits they would have attained if they had not been absent due to military service. USERRA also prohibits employers from firing or not hiring an employee because of his or her status as a member of the uniformed service, as well as from taking an adverse action (like refusing to promote that employee) or denying her any other employment benefit because of her military service. This law also protects individuals who have expressed an intention to serve in the military.
Additionally, in Iowa, firing an employee because of their military service constitutes wrongful termination in violation of public policy—a separate claim with different damages available. This public policy is based on Iowa Code section 29A.43(1), which prohibits many of the same things as USERRA.
The families of our men and women in uniform are heroes themselves for the unimaginable burden they carry, both when their loved ones are away from home, and also when their spouse, son, daughter, or parent returns from active duty. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires that a covered employer grant eligible employees up to 12 weeks of leave during a 12-month period to deal with certain issues that naturally arise when the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is on active duty. This includes things like making alternative child care arrangements or making financial or legal arrangements that arise as a result of the service member’s absence. The FMLA also requires a covered employer to provide an eligible employee up to 26 weeks of leave during a 12-month period to care for a service member with a serious injury or illness.
All of these laws have a variety of requirements about who is covered and fact-specific issues may control exactly how much protection is afforded by these and other laws. If you or a service member you care about has been fired or treated differently at work, please contact us. And, to all the men and women who have so bravely served, THANK YOU!