Uncle Sam Wants You To Comply WithUSERRA

By Allison Bell

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Employers have been watching some of their best employees headoff to war.

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Benefits managers at bigger companies mightknow everything they need to know about the Uniformed ServicesEmployment & Reemployment Rights Act, but USERRA experts saybenefits brokers can give smaller employers valuable advice aboutwhere to go for information about compliance.

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USERRA, which replaced the Veterans Re-employment Rights Law in1994, protects the jobs, salaries and benefits of reservists andGuard members while they are on active duty. It also provides thesame level of protection for workers who decide to enlist inregular military units.

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USERRA shares many similarities with the federal Family andMedical Leave Act and the COBRA health coverage continuation law.But, because the reach of USERRA is so broad, it forces many morebusiness owners to bone up on benefits compliance issues.

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Unlike COBRA and the FMLA, which exclude the smallest employers,USERRA “has no numerical cutoff,” says Hal Coxson, an attorney inthe Washington office of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak &Stewart P.C.

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Another difference has to do with employer attitudes: manyemployers see complying with USERRA as a way to serve theircountry.

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“The questions we get from employers are not about, How do weget around this? but how to comply,” Coxson says.

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USERRA gives employees the right to ask for leaves of absence tosatisfy all types of voluntary and involuntary military obligationsof five years or less. Employers may not have to give employeestheir old jobs back, but they do have to give employees jobscomparable to their old jobs.

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The section governing health benefits requires employers tooffer continuation of health benefits for the employees and theirdependents for up to 18 months after the employees go on activeduty.

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The health benefits section does give employers the right to askworkers who use USERRA to pay up to 102% of the full cost of thehealth premiums.

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The section governing pensions requires employers to increasethe seniority of workers using USERRA as if they were still on thejob. Employers must continue to make contributions todefined-benefit pension plans and offer matching contributions for401(k) plans. Workers who return to their old jobs get as much asfive extra years to catch up on contributions missed while theywere away on active duty.

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Employers also must treat workers out on USERRA leave at leastas well as they would treat employees out on other types of leavein connection with other benefits, such as life insurance anddisability insurance.

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In July 2002, the U.S. Department of Labor posted informaladvice on its Web site indicating that employees out on militaryleave continue to accumulate FMLA eligibility time as if they hadspent the military leave time working for their employers.

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Employers and benefits brokers can get more detailed informationabout USERRA from the Veterans Employment and Training Service, thedivision of the Labor Department that is responsible foradministering USERRA. The VETS Web site is athttp://www.dol.gov/vets/.

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Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a nonprofit groupchartered by the U.S. Department of Defense, provides informationabout USERRA and organizes programs for employers. One program,Bosslift, transports employers and supervisors to National Guardand Reserve training sites. The ESGR Web site is athttp://www.esgr.org/.

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Many states also have their own versions of USERRA.

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Coxson and colleagues include descriptions of the state versionsof USERRA along with information about the federal version in theMilitary Leave Compliance Kit, a collection of USERRA complianceinformation published by M. Lee Smith Publishers L.L.C., Brentwood,Tenn.

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Coxson says he has seen much more interest in USERRA since theSept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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Coxson responded by organizing a Web conference on the topicwith the Society for Human Resource Management, Alexandria, Va.

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SHRM had never before registered more than 200 participants fora Web conference. It set up the USERRA conference so that 500 couldlog on.

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In the end, 1,500 people tried to log on, and 1,000 were turnedaway.

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Coxson followed up by organizing a similar, bigger conferencewith the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and later used the Webcast asthe basis for the USERRA compliance toolkit.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, April 7, 2003.Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serialpublication. All rights reserved. Copyright in this article as anindependent work may be held by the author.


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