Understanding USERRA Rules: Protections and Steps for Military Service Members

by | Military Rights | 1 comment

Navigating your career while serving in the military can be challenging, but the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is here to help. USERRA ensures that you don’t have to choose between your civilian job and your service duties. Understanding these rules can make a significant difference in maintaining job security and benefits.

Whether you’re an employer or an employee, knowing your rights and responsibilities under USERRA is crucial. This article will break down the key aspects of USERRA rules so you can confidently manage your dual roles. Dive in to discover how USERRA protects your employment rights and what you need to do to stay compliant.

Understanding USERRA Rules


The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is a federal law that protects the employment rights of individuals who serve or have served in the uniformed services. Enacted in 1994, it ensures that service members can return to their civilian jobs after military service. USERRA covers all employers, public and private, regardless of size. It aims to eliminate disadvantages that might arise due to military commitments.

  1. Reemployment Rights: Service members are entitled to return to their civilian jobs after military duty if they provide advance notice to their employer, the period of service does not exceed five years, and they apply for reemployment in a timely manner after their service ends.
  2. Protection Against Discrimination: Employers cannot deny employment, reemployment, retention, promotion, or any benefits due to an individual’s military service. This protection applies during recruitment, employment, and after reemployment.
  3. Health Insurance Protection: While on military duty, service members can elect to continue their employer-sponsored health insurance for up to 24 months. If they choose not to continue coverage, they have the right to be reinstated without waiting periods or exclusions for pre-existing conditions (excluding service-related conditions).
  4. Pension Plan Benefits: USERRA ensures that service members’ pension plans, including defined benefit and defined contribution plans, are protected. Employers must treat individuals as if they had not left for military duty when calculating pension benefits.
  5. Escalator Principle: Upon reemployment, returning service members are entitled to the seniority and benefits they would have attained if they had not been absent due to military service. This means they could potentially return to a higher position than they left.

USERRA’s enforcement falls under the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) of the Department of Labor, which assists with resolving disputes regarding employment and reemployment rights.

Rights Protected Under USERRA

Employment and Reemployment Rights

USERRA guarantees your right to be reemployed in your civilian job after completing military service. To qualify, you must provide advance notice of your service to your employer, not exceed five years of cumulative military service during your employment, and return to work or apply for reemployment in a timely manner. Employers must reinstate you in the position you would have attained had you not been absent, including the same seniority, status, and pay. This is known as the “escalator principle.”

Benefits and Health Insurance Protection

While serving in the military, you retain your rights to health insurance coverage through your civilian employer. Under USERRA, if your absence is less than 31 days, your health insurance must continue as if you were not absent. If you serve more than 30 days, you have the option to maintain your employer-sponsored health plan for up to 24 months at no more than 102% of the full premium cost. USERRA also safeguards your pension benefits by ensuring that your time away for military service counts towards pension vesting and accrual.

Employer Obligations Under USERRA

Responsibilities Toward Returning Servicemembers

Employers must promptly reemploy service members after they return from military service. The position they provide should match the job the service member would’ve attained if continuously employed, applying the “escalator principle.” Reemployment must occur within two weeks if the service duration was over 90 days and within a few days for shorter absences.

Employers need to offer training or retraining if necessary, helping service members refresh skills or learn new ones. This assists in ensuring they can perform their duties effectively. Employers must also consider any disabilities acquired during service, providing reasonable accommodations or reassigning the individual to another suitable position.

Service members must receive their previous seniority, status, and pay. Their time away for military duty must count towards pension plan contributions and vesting periods.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

Non-compliance with USERRA can result in significant penalties. Employers may face lawsuits, and courts may require employers to compensate affected service members for lost wages or benefits. The Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) handles complaints and can refer cases for legal action if necessary. Employers must take these rules seriously to avoid financial losses and reputational damage.

Navigating USERRA Claims

Steps to File a USERRA Claim

To file a USERRA claim, follow these steps:

  1. Document Issues: Gather evidence of discrimination or reemployment issues, including emails, letters, and performance reviews.
  2. Talk to Employer: Attempt to resolve the dispute by discussing your concerns with your employer.
  3. Contact VETS: If unresolved, file a complaint with the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) using the VETS/USERRA e1010 form.
  4. Seek Assistance: VETS will investigate your claim and attempt to resolve it through mediation.
  5. Legal Action: If VETS can’t resolve the issue, you can request that the Attorney General file a lawsuit or you can hire a private attorney to pursue the matter in court.
  1. Mediation: VETS attempts to mediate between you and your employer to find an amicable solution.
  2. Administrative Remedies: VETS uses administrative measures to enforce compliance when mediation doesn’t work.
  3. Legal Remedies: If administrative remedies fail, lawsuits may be filed by the Attorney General or private attorneys, leading to court judgments enforcing USERRA provisions.
  4. Compensation: Legal actions can result in compensation for lost wages and benefits due to non-compliance.
  5. Reinstatement: Courts can order employers to rehire you, restoring your job position and seniority.


Understanding USERRA is crucial for both employers and service members. By adhering to its guidelines, you ensure fair treatment and legal compliance. If issues arise, remember that VETS is available to help resolve disputes. Filing a USERRA claim involves clear documentation and following the outlined steps. This not only protects your rights but also promotes a fair work environment. Stay informed and proactive to safeguard your employment rights effectively.


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