- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2010

As the Iraq and Afghanistan wars persist, some employers are becoming increasingly resistant to rehire service members who return from active duty as federal law requires, legal analysts say.

Washington lawyer Matthew Tully, who specializes in these cases, said that as the war on terrorism — which relies heavily on National Guard and Reserve units — stretches into its second decade, companies have become more familiar with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

But Mr. Tully, a founding partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC, said some employers have objections with the law and have been upfront with his firm about their failure to re-employ and sometimes even to hire citizen-soldiers. One prime reason is financial. He said, without specifying names, that airline companies have told the law firm that hiring military personnel has resulted in higher labor costs.

“We’ve seen the number of intentional violations skyrocket in the past three years,” he said.

The 1994 law requires employers to rehire workers who return from active military duty and, in the hiring process, prohibits discrimination against those who might become deployed.

A 2008 Labor Department report states that the employment law is entirely “complaint driven” and the government does not bring criminal charges against companies that violate the law.

Eric Montavo, a partner with the law firm Puckett & Faraj PC, said he also has noticed an increasing number of willful violations by employers. Mr. Montavo said the economic downturn has aggravated the situation because fewer jobs are available.

“The circumstances are driving [service members] to be very aggressive in pursuing their rights,” he said.

Maj. Melissa Phillips, chief of strategic communications at Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, which handles initial contact with the service members who report violations of the employment law, said the number of inquiries were up notably in 2009 from 2008, and are running higher than usual in 2010.

In 2009, the Defense Department organization received 15,870 inquiries related to the 1994 law, up from 13,090 in 2008. Nine months into fiscal 2010, it has received 12,600 such inquiries, an annual pace of close to 17,000.

Maj. Phillips said higher unemployment rates, coupled with an increased awareness of rights among service members, may be responsible for the increase.

Capt. Samuel Wright, director of the Service Members Law Center at the Reserve Officers Association, has been writing about and dealing with laws pertaining to the hiring of veterans since 1982. The roots of service members’ employment rights extend back to 1940, with the Veterans’ Reemployment Rights Act, which has been revised and transformed into the current law.

“I think we’re seeing a lot more employer resistance as people have been called up three, four, five times,” Capt. Wright said.

Even as employers wrestle with uncertainty, many military members and their families are left to make their own way.

Cmdr. Randy Jensen was a reservist when he was called back to active duty in the global war on terrorism in 2001. Before leaving for the Middle East, Cmdr. Jensen worked in the technology department for TASC Inc., a company specializing in national security technology. The company underwent an overhaul during Cmdr. Jensen’s absence and did not have his job available upon his return in 2008.

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