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Report: Federal Workers Facing Retaliation Over Military Service

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) was passed to protect employees who must be absent from their civilian jobs to serve, on active duty or in the reserves, in the United States uniformed services:

  • Army
  • Navy
  • Air Force
  • Marine Corps
  • Coast Guard
  • Public Health Service commissioned corps

The USERRA requires virtually all employers to reemploy the service member in their previous job or an equivalent position after they return from service, which includes active duty, initial active duty training, active duty training, inactive duty training, fitness examinations, and funeral honors duty. The law even applies to part-time and probationary employees.

The law also prohibits all forms of discrimination against past and present members of, and applicants to, the uniformed services on the basis of veteran status, including reservist status. Prohibited discrimination includes taking any negative job action against the employee. That means the person cannot be fired, demoted, refused promotion or given less favorable treatment in any way based upon their status as a military member or veteran.

The USERRA specifically states that the federal government ought to be a model employer in its treatment of veterans. According to a recent report by public media reporters for the American Homefront Project, however, 17% of all USERRA complaints filed with the Department of Labor over the last decade were against federal agencies.

DEA agents claim retaliation for their service-related absences

The American Homefront Project report includes an interview with Mark C., a career special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration who worked at the agency for 20 years before he retired last year. He also served 30 years in the Marine Corps, much of it as a reservist.

Mark and 15 other DEA agents from the San Diego area claim that the agency retaliated against them for their service by denying them promotions, transferring them to less-desirable positions and making clear the sense that the agents' military service was a burden on their civilian jobs.

Unfortunately, the process of resolving a complaint with a federal employer can be extremely time consuming at the moment, as the Senate has not confirmed the required members of the Merit Systems Protection Board. That agency, which hears appeals from federal workplace complaints, has not met in more than a year.

The USERRA is a crucial anti-discrimination law that helps keep our military running as an all-volunteer force. Even with the challenges resolving cases of veteran status discrimination, it is vitally important to call them out. Your first step is to contact an attorney who is experienced with USERRA complaints.

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