It’s tough to leave any job and start over, but what about leaving your job for war and finding yourself shut out of your old job when you return? That’s the conundrum that more veterans are facing these days. In a recent article by the National Law Journal, a recent case involving Stephen Fryer, a Massachusetts National Guard member and an Iraq war veteran, serves as a reminder — and a warning — of what can happen when servicemembers’ employment rights aren’t respected.
Fryer was hired by A.S.A.P. Fire and Safety Corp. as a sprinkler service/sales representative in March 2006, but after a 13-month deployment in Iraq, the company re-hired him as a sprinkler “helper” in June 2008. Fryer claimed he was unable to earn commissions in his new role because he had no access to customers, and also claimed the company would not pay the renewal fee when his personal licenses expired in July 2008, which meant he could not perform unsupervised work. Fryer was eventually fired in October 2008, and his case concluded with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit penalizing A.S.A.P. for violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) to the cool tune of $800,000.
We can expect more cases like this to arise, according to Corporate Counsel. The Department of Labor reports that the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) handled 1,282 complaints involving job reinstatement and reemployment problems. The Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) also reports that of the total number of cases handled by VETS in 2010, allegations related to job reinstatement accounted for 28.3 percent of the total caseload, the second highest tally out of all cases for the year.
The bottom line? Be sure to know your USERRA rights so you can keep your employers honest when you return from service. Former VETS director John McKinny also recommends these two tips:
- Notify your employer that you are leaving for service.
- Apply for reinstatement within the designated length of time. For example, if you are a Reservist who spent 181 days or more on assignment, you have 90 days to apply for reemployment.