The men and women who bravely serve our country and put their lives on the line shouldn't have to stand in the unemployment line when they get home. Unfortunately, unemployment can be a struggle and some service members face challenges translating military experience into civilian employment.
The information provided below relates to select federal and state laws that protect the employment rights of veterans, military service members, and their families. There are also resources available for individuals who may be looking for work.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) establishes certain rights and responsibilities for uniformed service members and their civilian employers. USERRA protects civilian job rights and benefits for veterans and for members of the active and reserve components of the Armed Forces. USERRA gives an employee returning from active duty military service or training the right to be re-employed at the same position (or as nearly comparable as possible) with the same benefits.
To claim USERRA protection, individuals must generally:
- Provide advance notice of their military service to their employer;
- Have less than five years of cumulative military service during their tenure with that particular employer;
- Have not been separated from service with a disqualifying discharge or under other than honorable conditions; and
- Return to work or apply for reemployment in a timely manner.
The U.S.. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) provides assistance with USERRA claims. VETS is authorized to investigate and resolve complaints of USERRA violations.
Another resource for information and help with USERRA is the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). ESGR is an agency under the Department of Defense that works to inform and educate service members and their civilian employers about their rights and responsibilities under USERRA. Although ESGR does not enforce USERRA, it does provide an Ombudsman Services Program that may be able to mediate disputes between service members and their civilian employers.
In addition to federal law, there are state laws protecting the employment rights of veterans and service members. The laws are meant to help minimize the disruption of the lives and careers of those who answer the call to serve.
State law (Chapter 73.16 RCW) protects the employment rights of individuals with military service obligations under state authority, such as members of the National Guard ordered to state active duty. In addition to the information below, the Attorney General's Office created an information sheet that provides an overview of the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees, which is available for download: Washington State Employment & Reemployment Rights for Uniformed Service Members (PDF)
Under state law, it is illegal to deny employment, reemployment, or any benefit of employment to service members because of their military association and obligations. State law also provides that individuals who vacate employment in order to serve in the uniformed services are eligible to be re-employed provided that:
- The employer has not experienced a change in circumstances that has made reemployment impossible or unreasonable;
- Reemployment does not impose an undue hardship on the employer; or
- The prior employment was not temporary.
To claim protection under state law, an individual must:
- Provide advance notice of his or her military service to their employer;
- Provide documentation of having satisfactorily completed his or her uniformed service; and
- Make a timely written application for reemployment to his or her employer, which depends on the type and length of service:
Service Deadlines for applying for reemployment
30 days or less
Must report to the employer and return to work on the next regularly scheduled work day after completion of service and expiration of an eight-hour period.
31 - 180 days
Must apply for reemployment and return to work within 14 days after completion of service.
181 days or more
Must apply for reemployment and return to work within 90 days after completion of service.
If hospitalized for illness or injury during service Must apply for reemployment and return to work after he or she recovers from the illness or injury, so long as the period of recovery does not exceed two years.
State law also provides that any employee re-employed will be considered as having been on a leave of absence and generally will not lose seniority, insurance, vacation, or other benefits.
If the service was duty not covered by USERRA and the state Adjutant General was unable to help resolve the issue, the Attorney General's Office is responsible for enforcing the employment protections for veterans and service members under state law. If you have questions or would like to request assistance, please contact the office.
Washington's Law Against Discrimination prohibits discrimination on the basis of "honorably discharged veteran or military status." The prohibition against discrimination applies to employment, as well as to housing, public accommodation, and credit and lending. Under the law, "honorably discharged veteran or military status" is defined to include any person who is a veteran (as defined in RCW 41.04.007) or is an active or reserve member in any branch of the Armed Forces of the U.S., including the National Guard, Coast Guard, and Reserves.
The Washington State Human Rights Commission enforces the Law Against Discrimination. The commission works to prevent and eliminate discrimination by investigating complaints and providing education and training opportunities. If you believe that you have been discriminated against because of your veteran or military status, you may file a complaint online or contact the Human Rights Commission.
Military Family Leave Act
Washington State’s Military Family Leave Act allows for the spouse of a military service member to take up to 15 days of unpaid leave from work when the service member is deployed or called up to active duty during a period of military conflict. The 15 days may be split, but the leave must be used prior to the deployment or when the service member is on leave during the deployment.
The spouse of a military service member intending to take leave under the act must notify his or her employer within five days of receiving official notice of the deployment, active duty, or leave from deployment. The employee also must work an average of 20 hours or more per week to be eligible.
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries investigates complaints related to the Military Family Leave Act and other state protected leave laws. You may contact the department at (866) 219-7321 or file a complaint online.
For many jobs with the federal government, veterans who are disabled or who served on active duty in the Armed Forces during certain specified time periods or in military campaigns have preference over non-veterans in hiring and retention. More information about veterans’ preference for federal jobs and how to apply is available by visiting www.fedshirevets.gov.
In recognition for their service and sacrifice, Washington state has enacted veterans’ preference laws to assist veterans seeking public employment with the state or any of its political subdivisions or municipal corporations. RCW 41.04.010 provides that if a competitive examination is administered to determine employment qualifications, eligible veterans receive either 5 or 10 percentage points added to a passing score. If no examination is administered, RCW 73.16.010 provides that eligible veterans, their surviving spouses, and spouses of honorably discharged veterans with a permanent and total service-connected disability are preferred for public employment. More information about veterans’ preference for state jobs and how to apply is available by visiting www.careers.wa.gov/veteranspreferences.html.
In 2011, Washington became the first state to pass a law – RCW 73.16.110 – that allows private employers to give hiring preference to honorably discharged veterans. The law makes it clear that such preferences are voluntary and are not violations of any state or local equal employment opportunity law. Employers that hire veterans may also qualify for a tax credit.
There are a number of resources available to assist veterans and service members with their job search. Here are a few to help you get started:
- WorkSource provides Washington’s veterans priority access to their employment services. WorkSource has veteran employment specialists who help thousands of veterans find jobs each year.
- The Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs has additional information and connections to veteran job opportunities and employment resources in Washington.
- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Employment Toolkit is designed to provide resources in finding and obtaining employment, as well as making career decisions.
- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also offers information on transitioning to the civilian workforce at Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program.
- The Veterans Job Bank provides veterans with a central source for identifying veteran-committed employment opportunities and assists U.S. employers in identifying qualified veterans.
- Hero2Hired (H2H) offers career exploration tools, military-to-civilian skills translations, education and training resources, as well as a mobile app to help service members connect and find jobs with military-friendly companies.
- Hire America’s Heroes seeks to connect some of the country's major corporations with the rich skills and abilities of military service members and their families for the purpose of employment in the corporate workforce.
- The Military Spouse Employment Partnership helps increase opportunities for military spouses to obtain private sector careers by connecting military spouses with education, training and employers who are actively recruiting.