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FED Facts: Two Important Laws for Federal Workers Who Still Serve in Uniform
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Because of the sacrifices that military members make while serving, the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Relief Act of 1994 (USERRA) provide service members with benefits for financial relief and job protection. The SCRA is an expanded version of the 1918 Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act. The SCRA extends benefits to active military service members, reservists, and active National Guard members. The law provides military service members with relief from certain civil obligations while on active military duty. The USERRA prohibits all employers from discriminating against employees who leave to serve in the military and requires the employer to reinstate the employee if the absence is five years or less.

The SCRA can postpone or suspend financial or civil obligations to prevent you from being taken advantage of while on active duty and away from home.

Protections offered by the SCRA include the following:

  • Prevents your landlord from evicting you unless the rent is higher than $3,451.20 per month (this amount changes every year)
  • Stops foreclosures without a court order
  • Prevents your vehicle from being repossessed without a court order if you made a deposit, or at least one payment, before you joined
  • Prevents you from being taken to court for civil proceedings, including divorce and child support hearings
  • Keeps the owner of a self-storage facility from selling your belongings for overdue rent without a court order
Benefits offered by the SCRA include the following:
  • Lets you terminate your current cell phone contract if you relocate for at least 90 days to a location that doesn’t have coverage under your current cell phone provider
  • Lets you end a vehicle lease you signed before joining if you are mobilized, PCS OCONUS, or deploy OCONUS for at least 180 days
  • Lets you end a housing lease without penalty if you deploy for 90 days or more 
  • Limits interest on all loans—including auto loans, mortgages, student loans, and credit cards—taken out before joining the military to 6 percent
  • Ensures that if you use any of your SCRA rights and delay payments, this won’t reflect on your credit report
The SCRA also gives you other rights regarding property taxes, Federal taxes, life insurance, and other financial or legal penalties or proceedings. Check with your unit legal officer for specifics.

USERRA is a Federal law that establishes rights and responsibilities for uniformed service members and their civilian employers. It affects employment, reemployment, and retention in employment when employees serve in the uniformed services.

USERRA provides job protection to workers who serve in the military, typically those in the National Guard or military reserves. More specifically, USERRA prohibits employers from engaging in discriminating acts against employees who serve in the military and provides eligible service members with job reinstatement rights upon completion of military service. The law applies to all employers, but does not require the employer to pay the employee during military leave.

Military Leave Eligibility
The right to reinstatement in a civilian job applies to individuals who voluntarily or involuntarily serve in the military, or who have served in the military. All employers, regardless of size, are required to comply with the law. USERRA benefits apply to the following type of uniformed service:
  • Active duty, including reserve and National Guard duty
  • Active duty for training
  • Initial active duty for training
  • Inactive duty for training
  • Full-time National Guard duty
Reemployment Eligibility
When a service member returns from military leave, the guarantee of reemployment in a civilian job applies in the following scenarios:
  • The employee gave the employer advanced written or verbal notice of military service or training.
  • The employee’s cumulative military leave does not exceed five years.
  • The employee was discharged under honorable conditions.
  • The employee applied for reemployment within the specified time.
The USERRA provides exceptions to the five-year limitation in certain situations. For instance, this limitation is inapplicable when the service member is unable to obtain a release from service, when he or she must participate in necessary training, or the service occurs during a time of war or a national emergency. Also, employers are required to make every effort to provide reasonable accommodations for military service members with disabilities. 

There are limited instances where an employer is not required to rehire a military service member returning from active duty. These include the following:
  • Changes in the workplace make it impossible (or nearly so) to reinstate the employee.
  • Reinstatement would create an undue hardship for the employer (in the context of a disability, this could be the unavailability of a reasonable accommodation).
  • Employment of the service member was so brief that there should be no reasonable expectation to return.
Military Leave Benefits
The law protects a service member’s job status, pay, and benefits as if he or she was not away at active duty. For example, the service member who leaves for six months of active duty should get the same pay raise as his or her nonmilitary peers (assuming performance levels and seniority are equal). Upon reemployment, the employer must do the following:
  • Count the employee’s military leave toward seniority status: The service member is entitled to increased pay, promotions, benefits, and pension vesting as if continuously employed.
  • Provide training: If the employee is not qualified for the reinstatement position, the employer must make reasonable efforts to qualify the employee.
  • Not discharge the employee without cause: The law prohibits an employer from discharging an employee for 180 days if service was for 31 to 180 days or for one year if service exceeded 180 days.
  • Offer immediate reinstatement of health insurance coverage: The employer cannot impose a waiting period on health insurance coverage for the employee and the previously covered dependents of the employee.
State Military Leave Protection
Many states have military leave laws that protect workers that serve in a state militia, in the National Guard, or as a reservist. Laws vary by state, but most prohibit discrimination against employees who serve in the military and entitle the worker to unpaid leave. Laws typically also provide reinstatement rights and protect the worker’s benefits. For example, Washington state law prohibits employers from denying employment, reemployment (after taking a leave for active duty service), or employment benefits to service members because of their military association and obligations.
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