State Laws on Military Leave

Learn about state laws that protect an employee's right to take leave for military service.

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In the wake of America’s large-scale deployment of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, workplaces around the nation have been jolted to heed some laws many had forgotten or ignored, as thousands of members of the National Guard and reserves are called away and pressed into duty.

A federal law, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA, sets out some broad guidelines that all employers must follow. That law, which applies to employers of all sizes and types, requires them to provide up to five years of unpaid leave to those called to the military services. The law generally prohibits discriminating against workers who serve and assures that they can reclaim their jobs after a stint of duty or training. USERRA also mandates that employers continue and pay for health benefits for the first 30 days of military leave and protects employees’ pension rights upon return. To take advantage of this law, employees must provide their employers with oral or written notice of the need for leave, if possible, and must return to work within a set period of time after their service ends. Special rules apply to employees who are disabled by their military service. (For more on USERRA, see Taking Military Leave.)

In addition, most states have laws requiring employers to give time off for National Guard or state militia members or reservists to serve, many of which expand upon the basic rights provided in USERRA. A number of laws set a minimum amount of paid or unpaid time off that must be given. And most laws include a provision preventing discrimination against employees who take military leave.

When leave is required, the employer must usually reemploy service member employees without loss of benefits, status, or reduction in pay. These reemployment guarantees usually contain a number of additional conditions. Typical rights and restrictions are that:

  • The employee must not have been dishonorably discharged.
  • The employee must present proof that he or she has satisfactorily completed service.
  • The employee must request reinstatement within a specified time.
  • If the employee is not able to do the job he or she left, the employer must offer an appropriate substitute position.
  • The employer need not reinstate the serviceperson if changes in the workforce have made that unreasonable.

To find out what your state requires, select it from the list below.

by: Barbara Repa

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