Attorneys: Law Gives Vets Employment Rights ‘Trump Card’

Posted: December 8, 2012

Lt. Col. Cindy Norwood, Virginia senior assistant attorney general, addresses a seminar on job rights for members of the military at Blue Ridge Community College. (Photos by Michael Reilly)
Attorney Doug Guynn speaks during Friday’s seminar at Blue Ridge Community College for area employers about the job rights of service men and women returning from duty.
WEYERS CAVE — Even after U.S. military members return from service they carry a “lethal weapon,” Harrisonburg lawyer Doug Guynn says.
 
That device is USERRA: the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, which requires employers to give military members who leave to serve the same job, or one with similar pay, upon their return.
 
Guynn, a lawyer with BotkinRose PLC, organized a free seminar on the law for about 25 area employers Friday at Blue Ridge Community College. The city of Staunton co-sponsored the event.
 
Guynn, who is Staunton’s city attorney, says a question about USERRA arose recently with the Staunton Police Department. He needed some guidance on the matter and figured that if he were unclear on how the law works, others probably are, too.
 
That led to the seminar, which featured Army Reserve Lt. Col. Cindy Norwood, a senior assistant attorney general for Virginia, as the main speaker.
 
She is considered the state’s expert on USERRA.
 
Whereas Guynn likened USERRA to a lethal weapon because of the protections it provides service members, Norwood views it as the “trump card.”
 
“It gives the most protections of any ... employment law in the country,” she said. “It trumps pretty much everything.”
 
In the last four years, the number of cases handled by Veterans’ Employment and Training Services, a veterans support group, has gone up 10 percent: 1,426 to 1,576.
 
This is while the unemployment rate for veterans younger than 24 hovers around 30 percent, Norwood said.
 
USERRA exists to help the military, as one’s desire to serve would likely lessen if he or she faced unemployment upon return from service, she said.
 
It protects those service members who had jobs from coming home jobless; to a lower-paying position; or a status that is less desirable, such as being forced to work a night instead of day shift.
 
About the only limitation is that USERRA does not apply if someone accumulates five years of military service during his or her career with one employer.
 
Also, career military members do not qualify.
 
Guynn said he wanted employers to leave the seminar feeling informed and inspired. Friday was an appropriate day for the seminar, he added — it was the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
 
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or pknight@dnronline.com


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