In this day and age, with passions of all kinds running high, those who are current or former members of the United States military have often been caught in the proverbial political crossfire. This occurs in all walks of life, from social justice to everyday issues like employment. In South Carolina, this can become a significant issue. If you are current or former military personnel, you have certain rights in the workplace that cannot be abrogated. Learn more about discrimination against military personnel and your rights.
The major law protecting the employment rights of U.S. military personnel is the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), passed in 1994. USERRA’s main feature is that it safeguards the employment rights of any and all U.S. military personnel if they are activated or otherwise required to honor their commitment to serve. Historically, soldiers and sailors could be terminated from their civilian employment because of absenteeism or other potential conflicts between work and the army, but USERRA has eliminated that practice in all but a couple of extremely exceptional cases.
Every aspect of military service is covered by USERRA, including leave of absence for training, not just active service. The law guarantees what are called reemployment rights, meaning that if a person is called to honor their commitment to serve in the military, they must be granted their job back upon the conclusion of that service. An employer cannot refuse to hire back a soldier or sailor if the only reason would be their service-related absenteeism; there must be another reason for any termination.
Do I Have A Claim?
The general rule is that if an employer fails to rehire or re-employ an employee who is also U.S. military personnel, and it can be demonstrated that the person’s military status was the “motivating factor” in that decision, the employee’s claim will likely prevail. Back pay, attorney’s fees and other lost benefits are among the potential damages. It is even possible (though rare) to receive punitive damages if the refusal to rehire is particularly egregious.
It is also worth noting that unlike many other states, South Carolina has a unique statute that grants reemployment rights to veterans and leave for state officials and employees. While the terms are similar, they are not identical. If for some reason relief is not forthcoming under USERRA, you may be able to file a civil suit under this law. However, South Carolina’s law does not allow for punitive damages. The South Carolina law is also somewhat more specific about someone being hired to temporarily fill that vacancy, as USERRA tends to leave that decision more to the individual employer.
Contact A Knowledgeable Employment Attorney
Military people have made a commitment to serve, and any employer who is aware of this has an obligation to allow them to honor it. If your employer has hindered or prevented you from serving, or if they have disciplined or discriminated against you for doing so, you may have a case. Attorney A. Christopher Potts and his employment law discrimination firm have experience in these types of cases. Contact Hitchcock & Potts today to set up an appointment.