The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (commonly referred to as USERRA) protects job rights and benefits for veteran employees by clearly defining the law and improving enforcement mechanisms related to veteran employment. Under USERRA, those who serve in the armed forces have certain reemployment rights with the organization that employed them prior to being deployed for active service.
While recognizing veterans in the workplace serves as a meaningful reminder about the importance of honoring those who have served, it is equally important to honor them for all they have yet to achieve — not just their accomplishments while in uniform. Despite their ability to navigate high-stress, intense work environments while serving, many veterans struggle to reintegrate into the workforce upon returning to civilian life.
Here are some important ways HR leaders can ease this transition by establishing the necessary processes and offering workplace accommodations and resources that will set them up for success.
Understanding Veteran Employment Laws
The first step to ensuring that your organization appropriately supports former military personnel is to fully understand the legal requirements related to veteran employment. USERRA is a federal law that protects service members from being disadvantaged in their civilian careers or discriminated against in employment because of their military service.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), three of the primary conditions set forth by USERRA are outlined below.
- Five years is "the cumulative length of time that an individual may be absent from work for military duty and retain reemployment rights ..." with certain limited exceptions.
- Employers are required to reemploy returning service members in the job "they would have attained had they not been absent for military service" with the same "seniority, status and pay ..."
- Employers are required to make "reasonable efforts" (such as training or retraining) to "enable returning service members to refresh or upgrade their skills to help them qualify for reemployment."
Twenty-five percent of reviewed complaints under USERRA involved allegations of improper reinstatement into civilian jobs following military service, according to the DOL. While this list is not comprehensive, it gives an overview of some of the most basic and critical legal requirements related to veteran employment. To learn more about USERRA compliance and determine what policies and procedures you are required to have in place, you can review the full list of requirements on the U.S. Department of Labor's website.
Rely on Additional Supporting Resources
Once you've established that your organization has accounted for all the necessary processes to satisfy all legal requirements, your next objective should be to shift your focus to developing additional resources to help facilitate a smooth transition for veteran employees returning to civilian work.
One vital way your organization can help ensure they're positioned for success is to establish an employee orientation program that's tailored to returning service members. Depending on how long an employee is away on military duty, the organization's culture, workflows and technology may have drastically changed. A thoughtful and intentional way to bring them up to speed can be accomplished through customized onboarding that accounts for the unique challenges they may face upon rejoining the workforce.
Providing training opportunities for managers and HR team members is another way to support veteran employees. Explain what activities you expect them to complete when an employee is in the process of returning to work from military service — this can range from manager checklists to proposed talking points and communication templates. Preparing your HR team and frontline managers is one of the best ways to create an inclusive work environment that respects, embraces and leverages the unique skillsets and diverse experiences of returning service members.
HR leaders should also consider the benefits of developing an employee resource group specifically for veteran workers. According to the Association for Talent Development, many businesses have leveraged their workforce to create employee resource groups that successfully boost diversity and inclusion efforts, improve employee engagement and even advance their market position by helping them reach diverse customers and communities. A veteran employee resource group can help you articulate the viewpoints of military personnel by providing a vehicle for communication, sharing common issues and establishing a support network to promote the personal and professional development of your employees.
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