Although the three-decade-old Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is arguably an afterthought in the employment world, it still packs a punch against employers in the courtroom. USERRA protects military service members and veterans from employment discrimination and retaliation on the basis of their service. The act allows such individuals to return to their civilian jobs after duty and mandates that employers reasonably accommodate any disability related to their service.
In 2022, a Texas jury awarded a U.S. Army reservist $2.49 million, ruling that the plaintiff’s former employer, the Texas Department of Safety (DPS) violated USERRA. The reservist suffered lung damage while on military duty, which impacted his ability to continue working as a state trooper. He requested a different position within DPS, which the department denied. The reservist then filed suit, which made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. DPS argued that the state was immune from USERRA suits, but the Court disagreed.
It’s important for employers to remember the relative magnitude of USERRA compared to other anti-discrimination employment laws. For example, USERRA applies to private and public employers, regardless of size. It also has no statute of limitations. Furthermore, a plaintiff need not file a USERRA complaint with any state or federal agency before filing a lawsuit, which means that a claim may proceed quicker than other employment-related claims that first require agency involvement.
USERRA provides broader protections and requires more comprehensive accommodations than the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under USERRA, military members and veterans are covered if they incurred any disability during their service. Under the ADA, the disability must “substantially limit” a major life activity for an individual. USERRA also mandates that employers go further than the ADA in their reasonable efforts to assist covered individuals, per the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in a 2020 guidance document. Specifically, employers must reasonably accommodate a military member’s disability and place the individual in the position they would have attained but for the military service. If a disability prohibits an individual from returning to their previous job, the employer must place them in a new position that’s of equal seniority, pay, and status to their previous position and provide free training, if necessary.
To learn more about who qualifies for USERRA’s reemployment rights, employer obligations under USERRA, employee rights under USERRA and how the U.S. Department of Justice enforces USERRA, click here.