Study finds ‘incomplete’ employer understanding of USERRA

August 22, 2013

A new RAND study of a federal law that protects members of the National Guard, Reserve and veterans from job discrimination finds “incomplete” employer support for and knowledge of the law, but says no substantial revisions are needed to the legislation.

The study finds that one-quarter of employers of citizen-soldiers admit to not knowing all they need to in order to comply with the law, including their obligations to the employee or where to go for assistance.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is meant ensure that Guard and Reserve troops returning to their civilian jobs are not penalized for their military service, and that active-duty troops not be denied jobs because of their service.

The Washington Post reported last year that the federal government, the largest employer of citizen soldiers, is also the biggest offender of the law. In fiscal 2011, more than 18 percent of the 1,548 complaints of violations of that law involved federal agencies,

The RAND analysis found no evidence that federal agencies are “less supportive” of members of the Guard and Reserve than employers in the private sector.

But two of the eight senior Reserve component chiefs interviewed for the study pointed to problems with federal agencies in their support for Guard and Reserve.

“The federal government is in the bottom tier of employers that understand that the folks they have are also members of the military,” one of the Reserve component chiefs told the study authors.

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Veterans Job Fair (George Frey/Getty Images)

Another Reserve component chief told the authors that the “biggest challenge we have is the [federal] government.” The chief said the “the problems seem to stem from a failure on the part of central offices to communicate USERRA-related policies to lower levels of the organization,” according to the report.

USERRA, which was enacted in 1994 to ensure that members of the military do not face a disadvantage in their civilian careers because of their service, calls on the federal government be “a model employer” for service members.

Following the Post’s story, President Obama issued a memorandum in July 2012 directing the leaders of federal agencies to ensure “robust compliance” with USERRA across the federal government, and the Office of Personnel Management instructed senior federal executives to show “zero tolerance” for violations of the law in the federal workforce.

Members of the Guard and Reserve working for the federal government were the most likely to rate their employers as supportive, according to the RAND study.

The study recommends continued efforts by the Department of Defense to promote awareness of the protections afforded to current former members of the military.

Steve Vogel is a reporter for the national staff of The Washington Post who covers the federal government and frequently writes about the military and veterans.
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