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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Honoring our Vets

by Tommy Eden



With Memorial Day tomorrow, its time for employers to reaffirm their duties under federal laws that affect the employment of our U.S. military veterans. Keeping these four principles in mind will help you be a better employer to those who serve.

First, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) requires employers to rehire employees who return from a period of active duty of up to five years and who apply for re-employment when they come back. Employees returning from a period of active military duty have only a certain amount of time to apply for re-employment, based on how long they spent in the service. But, if they timely return, re-employment to their former position and rate of pay is mandatory, with only a few exceptions.

Second, USERRA prohibits employers from discriminating against veterans returning from active service, refusing to hire someone returning from active duty based on his or her military service, or passing up veterans for promotions or firing them “on the basis of an individual’s veteran or servicemember status.” Doing so will get you a quick phone call from an USERRA advocate who works with the Department of Labor.

Third, the 'Escalator Principle' specifies that returning veterans must be re-employed at whatever position they would have obtained if they had not gone into the military but had remained in their job. The escalator principle extends to other aspects of the relationship between an employer and employee, including leave and pension benefits, and maybe vacation or sick time that an employee would have accrued during the period of time he or she spent during active duty, depending on employer policies.

Fourth, accommodation requirements for disabled veterans under USERRA obligate employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for a returning veteran with a disability. The employer is also required to make an effort to place the disabled veteran into a position he or she could be qualified for if they cannot perform their old job duties.

Common Sense Counsel: Consider training supervisors that employees returning from military service may have behaviors or issues that are directly related to military service in the field of combat. Providing a mentor who is a former military member themself would help a newer returning veteran quickly learn the do’s and don’ts of working in the civilian world. Of course, a legally compliant USERRA policy is your very first step to communicating to all your commitment to follow the law.

This topic is personal to me because my Dad served in the Navy for 23 years and will be the City of Auburn Distinguished Veteran at the Mayor’s Memorial Day Breakfast.

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901.