WASHINGTON - The Labor Department released final regulations Friday clarifying a 1994 law that protects the employment and re-employment rights and benefits of members of the armed forces.
The regulations are the first that explain the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act. The law promises that service members will be able to return to their jobs at the same pay and benefits as if they had never been deployed.
Before Sept. 11, 2001, complaints about re-employment averaged about 900 a year. But as more service members were deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, the number of complaints have increased, rising from 1,195 cases in fiscal 2002 - itself a 35 percent increase over 2001 - to a high of 1,465 cases in fiscal 2004. Complaints filed in fiscal 2005 dropped 9 percent .
About 85 percent are from Guard and Reserve members, according to the Labor Department.
"These brave men and women should not have to worry about their civilian jobs and benefits when they are on the front lines," Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said in a speech Friday.
The rules state that a returning service member must be "promptly re-employed" in the appropriate position, usually within two weeks. An employer may not delay or deny a service member's re-employment because the position was filled while away, and no other position is vacant. An employer must also re-employ a service member even if a hiring freeze is in place.
Disabled service members are entitled to be re-employed in the same position they would have reached if they had not been deployed. The employer must make reasonable efforts to accommodate the disability if it limits the worker's ability to perform the job.
The law prohibits discrimination based on military service and states that a service member who leaves work for military service has the right to continue existing employer-based health care coverage. The act also protects seniority, status and pay that would have been attained if the service member had not been deployed.
"In the past, it's been an issue of mostly either the employer or employee wasn't really educated," said Lt. Col. Louis Leto, director of communications at the Reserve Officers Association. "And usually when they are educated, the number of complaints go way down."
The Labor Department whittled the regulation into a one-page poster downloadable from its Web site.
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