Returning troops face new fight for old jobs

Federal law easy for employers to ignore

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“The bottom line is the law says you’re supposed to get the same opportunities as if you’ve never left,” Cmdr. Jensen said. “While I was gone, everything changed. When I came back, I didn’t really fit into anything.”

Although Cmdr. Jensen was technically rehired, he wasn’t assigned to a project that supplied enough earnings to support him, his wife, Jean, and their two daughters, ages 16 and 8.

“For two years, my family lived in fear,” said Mrs. Jensen, adding that the complaint-driven nature of the employment law’s enforcement makes it easy for major employers to ride out cases.

“Once you get laid off, you don’t even have the money to fight,” she said.

TASC representatives said they kept their end of the deal, but declined to discuss Cmdr. Jensen’s case on the record because of a pending investigation.

Company spokesman Jay McCaffrey said TASC does not violate veterans employment laws.

“TASC honors all of its commitments under USERRA,” he said. “We take that very seriously.”

Whether the Jensen case is the result of a violation or a misunderstanding, the family is not alone.

The federal government can become a party to such cases, but tracking government numbers over the years doesn’t yield clear trends for a variety of reasons:

• From 2000 through 2003, the Department of Labor, which is responsible for tracking cases of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, didn’t submit annual reports to Congress on violations.

• Different government agencies use different definitions of “complaint,” “case” and “referral.”

• The way the Labor Department categorizes the basis for its cases — discrimination, wage disputes, refusal to rehire and others — has varied over the years.

• Congress did not start receiving reports about the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act until 2007, after a recommendation from the Government Accountability Office.

During fiscal 2008, the Labor Department took up 1,389 new cases of the uniformed services act, 35.6 percent of which dealt with “discrimination over military obligations” and 25 percent of which dealt with reinstatement. The other 40 percent covered a score of issues such as pay, pensions, seniority and promotion.

In its annual report to Congress on 2008 violations, the Department of Labor, which is responsible for tracking the cases, said it found “no patterns of violations to USERRA.”

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About the Author
Kathryn Watson

Kathryn Watson

Kathryn Watson is an intern on the Continuous News Desk. Katie is a senior journalism major at Biola University just outside of Los Angeles, where she serves as the editor-in-chief of her school’s student newspaper, The Chimes.

 

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