Q. One of my employees is scheduled to return this fall from a two-year tour of duty in Iraq. What rights does this employee have regarding his return to work?
A. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) governs the employee’s return-to-work rights. USERRA has no minimum employee threshold. Virtually all private and public employers must comply with the law.
Since your employee was gone for longer than 180 days, he has up to 90 days to let you know he wants his job back. Employees whose active service lasted 31 to 180 days must let you know within 14 days. In both cases, you have just two weeks to put the employee back on the payroll. Different rules apply for service members gone fewer than 31 days.
You have other obligations, too. Returning employees are entitled to the position, seniority, status and pay they would have received if they had never left. In other words, treat the employee as if he or she had been continually employed.
But there’s more: Once your employee (who served more than 180 days) is back at work, you can’t discharge him without cause for a year (six months if the employee was gone from 31 to 180 days). That’s true even if he was an at-will employee before leaving.
This is only a brief summary of the obligations imposed by USERRA. With so many employees deployed for extended periods, this is one law employers need to know. If you have more questions, consult your attorney.