A court determined that the Nashville, Tennessee Police Department’s delay in re-employing a returning Army reservist violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”).
USERRA guarantees a veteran’s right to re-employment after a period of military service, stipulates the position that must be offered to the returning serviceman, prevents employers from discriminating against returning veterans, and prevents an employer for firing without cause a returning serviceman for a period of one year of re-employment. To be eligible for protection under USERRA’s re-employment provisions, a serviceman is required to leave the service under “honorable conditions,” make a timely request for reinstatement, and provide documentation establishing he meets the conditions for re-employment.
The police department delayed the re-employment of Petty, the returning serviceman, because it believed that Petty was dishonest in describing or documenting his military service. Although Petty provided the police department with a form DD-214, a form that satisfies USERRA’s requirement for documentation, the police department claimed that Petty altered his discharge form to conceal that his military separation was “in lieu of trial by court martial.” Petty argued that the form contained all the information necessary to show he qualified for USERRA’s re-employment protection, namely that he left the service under “honorable conditions.”
The court ruled that even if Petty was suspected of altering a military record or concealing facts about his military service and discharge from the Army, USERRA did not permit delaying his reinstatement to investigate the department’s suspicions. The court concluded that it would be inconsistent with the goals of USERRA to refuse Petty’s right to re-employment, because he failed to provide information that was not required by the statute. The court then directed the trial court to proceed to a determination of damages resulting in the police department’s violations of USERRA.
This case highlights the importance of complying with requirements of USERRA when re-employing a returning serviceman. Although you may have concerns about the returning serviceman’s reasons for discharge, as long as the serviceman’s documents establish that he or she meets the requirements of re-employment under USERRA, you should not delay his or her return. If you have any questions regarding USERRA or how to handle the re-employment of a returning serviceman, please contact HRO for guidance.