Updated: September 18, 2012
In the week leading up to Memorial Day, Senators Robert Casey (D-PA) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) introduced legislation that would increase reemployment and leave protections for veterans and returning members of the National Guard and Reserves. The first bill, the Servicemembers Access to Justice Act (S. 3233) (pdf) introduced by Sen. Casey, would amend the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) – which provides reemployment protections for returning service members and prohibits discrimination based on military service – by making it easier for those seeking redress under this Act to bring an action in civil court. As outlined in a press release, the provisions of this bill would, among other things:
- Prohibit employers from requiring service members to give up their ability to return to their prior position as a condition of employment. A service member could voluntarily leave their job upon deployment but could not be forced to do so as a condition for obtaining the job in the first place.
- Add minimum liquidated damages for willful violations of USERRA and punitive damages for violations committed with malice.
- Require that federal agencies provide notice to contractors of their potential obligations under USERRA.
- Render unenforceable an agreement between an employer and employee that would require arbitration of a USERRA-related dispute unless the parties voluntarily agree to arbitrate such claims.
The second service-related measure, the Servicemember Employment Protection Act (S. 3236), (pdf) introduced by Sen. Pryor, would permit veterans to take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in order to receive medical or dental treatment for service-related injuries or illnesses. In addition, the bill would allow federal contracting officers to suspend or bar companies that repeatedly violate military discrimination laws from receiving current or future government contracts for up to five years. Like the Servicemembers Access to Justice Act, this bill would also prevent employers from requiring employees to resolve their USERRA-related claims via binding arbitration.
Both measures have been referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
Update: On September 12, 2012, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs approved the Servicemembers Access to Justice Act by voice vote.
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