Understanding the USERRA Act: Protecting Military Jobs and Filing Claims for Your Rights

by | Military Rights | 1 comment

Navigating employment rights can be tricky, especially if you’re a service member balancing military duties with civilian work. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) offers crucial protections ensuring you don’t have to choose between serving your country and maintaining your career.

USERRA safeguards your job and benefits, making it easier to return to civilian employment after military service. Whether you’re a reservist or a National Guard member, understanding your rights under this act is essential for securing your professional future. Dive into the key aspects of USERRA to ensure you’re fully aware of the protections available to you.

What Is the USERRA Act?

Overview of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects service members’ employment and benefits. Enacted in 1994, it ensures that individuals who serve in the military can retain their civilian jobs and financial security. Employers must accommodate the commitments of reservists and National Guard members.

Key Provisions of the USERRA Act

USERRA contains several crucial provisions. You retain your job upon return from military duty if you provide prior notice to your employer. The law mandates immediate reinstatement without loss of seniority, status, or pay rate. Your time in service counts towards pension plans and other employment benefits.

USERRA also covers health insurance. For service periods less than 31 days, coverages continue as if you never left. If your service exceeds 30 days, you can elect to continue your employer-provided health care for up to 24 months.

Anti-discrimination is a core element. Employers cannot deny hiring, promotion, or any employment advantage based on your military obligations. You can seek assistance from the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) if you encounter issues.

Eligibility for USERRA Protection

Criteria for Employees

To be eligible for USERRA protection, you must meet specific criteria. You must have had civilian employment before enlisting in the military or being called to active duty. Your employer must be informed of your military service obligation in advance, except in cases where giving such notice is impossible due to military necessity. Your cumulative military service should not exceed five years with respect to your employer. If the period of service exceeds five years, it may not qualify for USERRA protection unless exempted by statutory exceptions. Furthermore, upon completion of military duty, you must report back to your civilian employer within a specified time frame, which varies depending on the length of your military service.

Qualifying Military Service Explained

Qualifying military service under USERRA encompasses various military activities. It includes active duty, active duty for training, and initial active duty for training. National Guard duty whether in the state or federal role, also qualifies. Furthermore, periods of absence for medical treatment or recovery for a service-connected injury or illness also count as qualifying service. Military service under USERRA applies to all service branches including the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, Public Health Service commissioned corps, and, in some cases, the National Disaster Medical System. The protection extends to voluntary and involuntary military service, ensuring comprehensive coverage.

Rights and Benefits Under USERRA

Employment and Reemployment Rights

You possess significant employment protections under USERRA. USERRA guarantees job retention for military personnel returning from service. Employers must promptly reinstate you to your previous position or a comparable one, ensuring no loss of seniority or pay. Reinstatement happens immediately upon your return, provided that your cumulative military service does not exceed five years with specific exceptions. Notice your employer of your upcoming military service to secure these reemployment rights.

USERRA also safeguards against employment discrimination based on your military obligations. Employers cannot deny you initial employment, reemployment, retention in employment, promotion, or any employment benefit based on your military service.

Health Insurance and Pension Plans

USERRA provides health insurance coverage continuity during and after your service. If your military service is less than 31 days, your employer must maintain your health insurance as if you were still employed. For service exceeding 31 days, you can elect to continue your healthcare coverage for up to 24 months, albeit at your own expense, but at no more than 102% of the full premium.

Pension plans are protected under USERRA. Your time away for military service counts as continuous service with your employer for pension purposes. You can make up missed contributions to defined contribution plans upon reemployment. Defined benefit plans must also reflect your military service in determining pension benefits.

By understanding these rights and benefits, you can ensure your civilian employment and benefits remain secure during and after your military service.

Employer Obligations Under USERRA

Requirements and Responsibilities

Employers must adhere to specific obligations outlined in USERRA. They should provide prompt reemployment to returning service members in their original position or a comparable one. Reinstatement needs to occur with the same seniority, status, and pay the employee would have attained if continuously employed. Employers must also ensure benefit protections, including health insurance and pension plans, continue without interruption during the service period.

Employers should not discriminate against employees based on their military service. This includes hiring, promotion, job assignment, and any other terms or conditions of employment. Additionally, they must grant leaves of absence for military duty without imposing adverse consequences upon return.

Enforcement and Penalties

USERRA mandates strict penalties for non-compliance. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) investigates complaints. If deemed valid, VETS attempts to resolve them voluntarily with the employer.

If voluntary resolution fails, the case may be referred to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) or the Department of Justice (DOJ). Courts can impose damages, require back pay, and mandate reinstatement. Repeated violations may result in more severe legal consequences.

Employers bear the responsibility of understanding and adhering to these obligations to avoid penalties and ensure compliance with USERRA. The act protects service members, ensuring their civilian employment remains secure during and after military duties.

How to File a USERRA Claim

Steps to Take If Your Rights Are Violated

Identify Violation: Determine if your rights under USERRA were violated by assessing your employment situation against the protections provided by the act. Consider job retention, reemployment, discrimination, and benefit continuation.

Gather Documentation: Collect relevant documents to support your claim. Obtain military orders, employment records, employer communications, and any evidence of discrimination or non-compliance.

File a Complaint: Submit a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS). Use the VETS 1010 form, which is available online or at VETS offices.

Seek Legal Counsel: If VETS doesn’t resolve your complaint, you may need to seek legal advice. Contact a lawyer experienced in USERRA claims to understand your options and legal rights.

Seeking Assistance from the Department of Labor

Contact VETS: Reach out to the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) for guidance and assistance with your claim. VETS helps service members and veterans understand their rights and navigate the complaint process.

Submit Claim: File your claim by completing the VETS 1010 form online or in person at local VETS offices. Provide detailed information and supporting documents to facilitate the review process.

Investigation Process: Once your claim is submitted, VETS will investigate your complaint. They will contact your employer, review documentation, and determine whether your rights were violated under USERRA.

Follow-Up: Stay in communication with VETS regarding the status of your claim. Provide any additional information they request promptly to avoid delays in the resolution process.


Understanding your rights under the USERRA Act is crucial for safeguarding your employment and benefits while serving in the military. By familiarizing yourself with the protections and knowing how to file a claim if your rights are violated, you can ensure your civilian job is secure. Employers must also stay informed about their obligations to prevent legal repercussions and support their service member employees effectively. With the right knowledge and resources, you can confidently navigate your career both in and out of uniform.


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