How Federal Law Protects New Jersey Servicemembers’ Employment Rights

Service in the U.S. military and other uniformed services can mean a great deal of uncertainty. People who serve in the National Guard or Armed Forces Reserves have training obligations and may find themselves called to active duty. This can cause difficulties with employment in both the private sector and non-military government jobs. New Jersey employment law prohibits employers from discriminating based on military service obligations, but its protections only cover mandatory service in the Armed Forces. Federal law goes further by addressing servicemembers’ ability to return to their jobs after their service ends. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) turns thirty this year, having become law in October 1994. It offers important protections for New Jersey servicemembers.

Who Does USERRA Cover?

USERRA applies broadly to people on active or inactive duty in any of the uniformed services of the United States. This includes the six branches of the Armed Forces: the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, and Space Force. It also includes the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Surgeon General, for example, is an officer with the Public Health Service.

In contrast, New Jersey’s antidiscrimination law only applies to mandatory active duty service in the Armed Forces. This includes service in a National Guard or Reserve unit and induction through a draft.

What Rights Does USERRA Protect?

USERRA provides two significant protections for servicemembers:
– It prohibits discrimination on the basis of membership, service, or application for service in a uniformed service.
– It requires employers to re-employ servicemembers in the same position with the same benefits after their service obligation ends. Exceptions include when a servicemember’s employment had been very brief and when re-employment would pose an undue hardship on the employer.

The statute applies much more broadly than many federal employment laws. For example, its definition of “employer” covers most public and private employers without limits like a minimum number of employees.

USERRA does not require servicemembers to exhaust their administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit against a private employer. A person who wants to file suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must first file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Servicemembers have the option of filing a USERRA complaint with the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS), part of the U.S. Department of Labor, but they are not obligated to do so.

USERRA also lacks a statute of limitations. While employees only have 180 days from the date of the alleged unlawful act to file a charge with the EEOC, servicemembers have no specific timeline for filing a USERRA claim.

Damages that a servicemember may collect include:
– Reinstatement in their previous job;
– Back pay and other lost benefits for the time; and
– Liquidated damages in an amount equal to back pay and other lost benefits.

How Can Servicemembers Assert Their Rights Under USERRA?

As mentioned above, USERRA does not require servicemembers to file an administrative claim before they may file a lawsuit. They can file a complaint with VETS, or they can file a lawsuit directly in federal court.

If you believe that your employer has engaged in unlawful workplace practices and violated your rights, you may be able to claim legal remedies, including monetary damages. The knowledgeable and skilled employment lawyers at the Resnick Law Group represent workers in New Jersey and New York in a wide range of legal claims. Please contact us online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 today to schedule a confidential consultation to see how our experienced team can help you.

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