13/08/13 at 10:37 am
Reservists and National Guard members returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan are finding that the jobs they hoped would waiting for them upon their homecoming are no longer there.
Christopher Harress began looking into this issue for his master’s project in the Stabile program last year. He found that since 9/11, more than 660,000 National Guard members and reservists have been deployed to fight in the country’s war on terror.
But, as he wrote in a story published last month by the International Business Times:
When they came home, they expected to pick up life where they had left off. A law called the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act, or USERRA, was supposed to help ensure that happened.
The law is intended to protect members of the Reserve and National Guard from employment discrimination — primarily, to ensure they keep the jobs they held before they were deployed. Employers are supposed to make concessions to ensure this happens, and in many cases the burden is heavy. At any moment, a member of the Reserve or Guard can be deployed for as long as two years.
But while the burden is heavy, willfully violating USERRA can lead to double damages being awarded. In some cases, smaller companies file for bankruptcy to avoid the payouts, once again leaving the Reserve or Guard personnel with few or no avenues for compensation for their troubles, and in some cases leaving them with bills to pay.
Some businesses like Wal-Mart and JP Morgan follow the law and keep the jobs open. But many small businesses cannot afford to do so. Seventy percent of the National Guard and Reserve, however, are employed by small businesses. Harress wrote that before 9/11, such problems were uncommon, but after more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the hundreds of thousands deployed there can no longer be assured their jobs would still be there when they return.
Harress recounted the story of Cory Schuyler, a National Guard member and Afghan war veteran, who lost his job in a security firm after his deployment. Like other veterans in a similar situation, Schuyler found little support for his fight to win his job back: Both the labor and defense departments were unresponsive, saying there was little they could do to help him.