Taking Military Leave in California

California law and the federal USERRA protect employees' jobs while they are on military leave.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

If you are a member of the National Guard or Reserves, you likely have two careers: a regular job in the private sector and temporary stints in the military. If you are called to active duty, your military service could stretch out for months. But while you are gone, federal and state laws protect your job rights.

Federal Law: USERRA

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is a federal law that protects employees who need time off from their regular jobs for military service. USERRA is one of the most protective employee rights laws on the books. It prohibits discrimination against employees who are in the military, have served in the military, or take leave to serve in the military. But it also requires employers to reinstate employees who take up to five years off for military service, with all of the promotions, raises, and other benefits they would have received had they worked through their time off. And, it prohibits employers from firing employees without cause for up to one year after they return from service. (For more information on USERRA, see Taking Military Leave.)

California Military Leave Laws

USERRA protects employees who serve in the United States military, including those who serve in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, Reserves, Army or Air National Guard, and Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service. If you work in California and you need time off for service in one of these branches of the military, you are protected by USERRA.

As is true in many areas of employment law, California provides additional protections. Members of the California National Guard who are called to active duty are entitled to unlimited paid leave and reinstatement to their former position or a position of similar seniority, pay, and status, without loss of retirement or other benefits. Employees must apply for reinstatement within 40 days after they are discharged, and cannot be terminated without cause for one year.

Employees who are in the Guard, Reserves, or Naval Militia are entitled to up to 17 days of unpaid leave per year for military training, drills, encampment, naval cruises, special exercises, or similar activities. Employers may not terminate employees or limit their benefits or seniority because an employee has a temporary disability resulting from duty in the National Guard or Naval Militia (for up to 52 weeks). And, employers may not discriminate against employees because of their membership in any branch of the state or federal armed services.

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your military service, or you have been denied the rights available to you under USERRA or California state law, check out servicemembers.gov, the Department of Justice's website devoted to enforcing USERRA and other laws that protect the rights of those who serve in the military. You'll also find helpful information at the website of Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve.

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