Members of the military, particularly those in the reserves or in the Air or Army National Guards, are often left having to juggle the responsibilities inherent with their enlistment as well as the already-rigorous demands of civilian life. For many, this requires performing a full- or part-time job outside of their military service. When they are called into active duty, they’re forced to leave those jobs behind for an extended period of time. While such time away from work might disqualify civilians from retaining the right to return to their jobs under certain circumstances, servicemen and women are guaranteed employment protections under The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Acts.
SCRA Protections for the Self-Employed
While the SCRA specifically deals with issues pertaining to civil matters facing servicemembers, it does contain some employment provisions. These mostly apply to those servicemen and women who are in business for themselves. For example, if a military member is also a small business owner whose company happens to owe outstanding debts, the SCRA allows him or her to leave to perform the tasks associated with his or her active duty without the worry of having to satisfy those liabilities while away. It also prevents creditors from attempting to seize any of a service-member’s business assets to satisfy a debt while he or she is deployed or on active duty.
Furthermore, the SCRA also allows members of the military who are in business for themselves the opportunity to excuse themselves from professional agreements that could impede their ability to meet an active duty assignment. Specifically, this refers to business lease agreements. If one enters into a business lease agreement and then is called to active duty, or begins a lease while on active duty and is then transferred to a different location, he or she can provide written notice to the property owner that effectively terminates the lease agreement, even if the time component of such an agreement has not been fulfilled.
Assisting Servicemembers in Resuming Their Careers
In terms of guaranteeing the right to employment when soldiers return from active duty, USERRA lays forth the expectations that they can expect. From an employer prospective, one needs to be prepared to extend the following rights those workers who’ve been called away for military service:
- The right to apply for reemployment for up to five years from having to leave for active duty.
- The right to have an employer make adequate changes to accommodate any disability that one may have attained due to his or her service.
- The right to continue to receive employer-sponsored health and pension plan coverage for up to 24 months.
For the purposes of USERRA, “reemployment” is considered to be whatever position one may have attained had he or she not had to leave to fulfill a military obligation. Included in that are the guarantees that he or she will come back to the same level or pay and benefits, along with the same seniority standing. These are typically the same benefits extended to those forced to go on non-military leave, which is why USERRA experts encourage employers to basically think of military deployments and active duty assignments as essentially extended leaves. Ultimately, the goal is to help the serviceman or woman returning to their careers feeling as though they never left in the first place.
Having to leave behind family, friends, and one’s career can be unsettling to any serviceman or woman, even if it is to go off and serve the country. As a symbol of appreciation for their service, it seems only fitting that such brave men and women be allowed to return to the same situations that they left. SCRA and USERRA allow for that. However, that’s not to say that issues won’t arise in enforcing the employment protections granted under these acts. Thus, it’s vitally important for both employers and servicemembers to become familiar with them in order to ensure their continued enforcement.
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