Durbin Announces Bill To Strengthen Servicemember Employment And Reemployment Protections

PEORIA—U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today joined Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in introducing legislation to better protect military personnel and veterans from potentially unfair employment disadvantages caused by any extended absence from work while on active duty. Passage of the USERRA Improvement Act, as well as the Justice for Servicemembers Act, are especially critical after a federal court ruled this month that a Navy reservist could not sue his former employer for firing him after he was deployed to Afghanistan due to a pre-employment arbitration agreement.
“We owe our nation’s servicemen and women a great debt of gratitude, and that includes the promise that upon their return to civilian life, they can return to work and provide for their families. It is unacceptable that members of our Armed Forces come back from military service only to find they have lost their jobs,” Durbin said. “This bipartisan effort would strengthen existing protections and ensure our veterans and servicemembers have the right to take their employers to court when that promise is broken.”
“In peace and in war, members of the Reserve Component are called away from their civilian jobs to ensure the safety of our nation,” Blumenthal said. “With the passage of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, we guaranteed these brave servicemembers the right to return to their civilian job when they return home. This critical legislation would build on this promise by strengthening employment and reemployment protections already in place, solidifying the Department of Justice’s authority to enforce these protections, and ensuring servicemembers who believe their rights have been violated have their day in court.”
“Our men and women in uniform volunteer to put themselves in harm’s way and serve our country.  They should never have to worry about whether their job will be there when they get back," Murray said. "I'm proud to support this legislation to make sure we are doing everything possible to protect our servicemembers and ensure they get the basic safeguards they deserve. This is good for our servicemembers and military families, and it's good for our country.”
“When citizens step up and serve our country they deserve the right to their civilian job when they return home,” Baldwin said. “This legislation will help us keep our promise to servicemembers by better protecting the job security of military personnel while on active duty.”
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)—Congresses’ most recent enactment of servicemember reemployment protection—encourages military service by minimizing the disruptions to civilian careers that are caused by military service. USERRA guarantees servicemembers the right to return to their civilian jobs after a period of service. The USERRA Improvement Act of 2016 builds upon the current law, works to eliminate the disadvantages to civilian careers which can result from service, and expands protections for servicemembers with greater federal enforcement mechanisms. The bill would improve USERRA by providing essential enforcement powers to the Department of Justice.
Specifically, the legislation would:
·         Strengthen enforcement of USERRA rights by allowing the United States to serve as a plaintiff in all suits filed by the Attorney General, as opposed to only suits filed against State employers.
·         Strengthen enforcement of USERRA by granting independent authority to the Attorney General to investigate and file suit to challenge a pattern or practice in violation of USERRA.
·         Allow servicemembers to bring an action against a State or private employer in State court or Federal district court using jurisdictional requirements that are similar to the federal general venue statute.
·         Authorize the Attorney General to issue civil investigative demands in its USERRA investigations.
·         Clarify that the employer has the burden of identifying proper reemployment positions.
This legislation is supported by the American Legion, Veterans Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, and National Guard Association of the United States.