By Tom Jacobson
Military service imposes a tremendous burden on our nation’s service members and their families. This can be worsened when they are called away from their civilian jobs to serve our country. To help ease that burden, several federal and state laws have been passed to protect those jobs when duty calls.
The most commonly applied law is the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). USERRA applies to all employers, regardless of size. It protects the jobs of individuals who voluntarily or involuntarily leave employment to serve in the uniformed services. Those protections include a limited right to reinstatement to their jobs following military duty and the right to be free from workplace discrimination and retaliation because of military status. Under USERRA, service members may also elect to continue their employer-provided health insurance for up to 24 months while serving in the military.
Larger employers (50 or more employees) are also covered by the “exigency leave” and “military caregiver” portions of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under the FMLA, covered employers must allow eligible employees to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave during any 12-month period for qualifying exigencies that arise when the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is on covered active duty or has been notified of an impending call or order to covered active duty. “Qualifying exigencies” include making alternative child care arrangements for a child of the deployed military member, attending certain military ceremonies and briefings, or making financial or legal arrangements to address the military member’s absence.
Similarly, the FMLA requires covered employers to allow eligible employees to take up to 26 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness. The employee must be the spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin of the covered service member.
Minnesota has also enacted a military leave statute. This law allows certain state and local government employees to take a job-protected leave of absence for military service. Some of these protections are extended to employees of non-governmental employers when state emergencies are declared.
It’s often said that “Freedom isn’t free.” Providing these job protections to our nation’s service men and women and their families is a small price to pay to honor them for their sacrifice.
Tom Jacobson is an attorney with the Swenson Lervick Law Firm in Alexandria. Certified by the Minnesota State Bar Association as a labor and employment law specialist, he has been advising workers and employers for more than 25 years.