LAW REVIEW 1139
Injury or Illness Sustained During
Extend Deadline to Apply for
By Captain Samuel F. Wright, JAGC, USN
220.127.116.11—Timely Application for Reemployment
18.104.22.168—Accommodations for Disabled Veterans
Q: I am a
volunteer ombudsman for the National Committee for Employer Support of the
Guard and Reserve (ESGR). I use your
“Law Review” articles all the time to assist me in resolving cases about the
rights of National Guard and Reserve personnel under the Uniformed Services
Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). I have a new case that has me stumped—I am
not sure what to advise the Guard member to do.
Mary Smith (not her real name) is a member of the Army
National Guard and an employee of a major corporation. She was called to active duty and deployed to
Afghanistan, where she was wounded in action.
Her active duty period was expected to last one year, but it ended up
lasting 18 months, because of her wounds and her recuperation. When she was released from active duty on
March 31, 2011, her recuperation was incomplete. She is scheduled for at least one more
surgery and some physical rehabilitation, and she will have that treatment at
an Army hospital, under a Line of Duty determination.
Mary’s civilian job requires vigorous physical
activity and she will not be able to do that job until at least March 2012 (one
year after her release from active duty).
I understand that USERRA has a provision permitting the “wounded
warrior” to wait up to two years to return to work in the pre-service civilian
job after release from active duty. How
does that provision work?
A: As I explained in Law Review 0766, and other articles,
Mary must meet five conditions to have the right to reemployment with her
- She must have
left the job for the purpose of performing voluntary or involuntary service in
the uniformed services. It is clear that
she meets this condition.
- She must have
given the employer prior oral or written notice. For purposes of this article, I shall assume
that she met this condition.
- Her cumulative
period or periods of uniformed service, relating to the employer relationship
for which she seeks reemployment, must not have exceeded five years. Because she was called to active duty
involuntarily, this recent period of service does not count toward her
- She must have
been released from the period of service without having received a punitive
(court martial) or other-than-honorable discharge. It is clear that she meets this criterion.
- She must make a
timely application for reemployment.
This is the one condition that she has not yet met but can still meet.
Because her period of service
was more than 180 days, Mary has 90 days to apply for reemployment. 38 U.S.C. 4312(e)(1)(D). Shorter deadlines apply after shorter periods
Mary’s DD-214 shows that she
was released from active duty on March 31, 2011. Thus, the deadline for her to apply for
reemployment is June 29, 2011 (90 days later).
“A person who is hospitalized
for, or convalescing from, an illness
or injury incurred in, or aggravated during, the performance of service in the
uniformed services shall, at the end of
the period that is necessary for the person to recover from such illness or
injury, report to the person’s employer (in the case of a person described in
subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1)) or submit an application for
reemployment with such employer (in the case of a person described in
subparagraph (C) or (D) of such paragraph).
Except as provided in subparagraph (B), such period of recovery may not exceed two years.” 38 U.S.C. 4312(e)(2)(A) (emphasis
Section 4303 of USERRA (38
U.S.C. 4303) defines 16 terms used in this law, but the term “convalescing” is
not one of the defined terms. When a
statute uses a term but does not define it, courts normally refer to
dictionaries to determine the “generally understood meaning” of that term. The
American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, defines “convalesce”
as follows: “To return to health after
illness; recuperate.” Applying this
definition, it is clear that the deadline for Mary to apply for reemployment
can be extended up to two years under 38 U.S.C. 4312(e)(2)(A).
The period of recovery can be
up to two years. In Mary’s case, the period of recovery will
likely be substantially shorter.
Please note that section
4312(e)(2)(A) extends the deadline for
Mary to apply for reemployment, which otherwise will expire on June 29,
2011. The deadline to apply for reemployment may be different
from the deadline to return to work. Once Mary applies for reemployment, that
application will likely render moot her right to an extension of the deadline
for her to apply for reemployment. The
Department of Labor USERRA regulation provides:
“This period for recuperation and recovery extends the time period for
reporting to or submitting an application for reemployment to the employer, and
is not applicable following reemployment.”
20 C.F.R. 1002.116.
Mary needs to think this
through and she needs expert advice to determine the proper course of action. She should not apply for reemployment until
she is ready for the employer to act on her application and put her back to
work. Once she applies for reemployment,
the employer is required to act on her application promptly. “Absent unusual circumstances, reemployment
must occur within two weeks of the employee’s application for
reemployment.” 20 C.F.R. 1002.181.
pre-service employer is a major corporation with thousands of employees in
scores of job classifications. Her
recuperation from her wounds will likely extend until about March 2012. Her pre-service job required vigorous
physical activity, and she cannot return to that job until sometime next year,
but there are scores of other jobs that Mary can do despite her disability
(which we hope and expect will be temporary).
Does Mary have additional rights as a wounded warrior?
A: Yes. When Mary
makes a timely application for reemployment and meets the five conditions, the
employer is required to reemploy her “in the position of employment in which
the person would have been employed if the continuous employment of such person
[Mary] had not been interrupted by such service, or a position of like
seniority, status, and pay, the duties of which the person is qualified to
perform.” 38 U.S.C. 4313(a)(2)(A). For purposes of this article, we shall assume
that the position that Mary would have attained if she had been continuously
employed is exactly the same position that she left in late 2009, when she was
called to the colors.
Because Mary is returning
from uniformed service with a disability incurred or aggravated during her
service, the employer is required to make “reasonable efforts … to accommodate
the disability.” 38 U.S.C. 4313(a)(3). If the disability cannot be reasonably
accommodated in that specific position of employment (because that position
requires vigorous physical activity), the employer must reemploy Mary “in any
other position which is equivalent in seniority, status, and pay, the duties of
which the person is qualified to perform or would become qualified with
reasonable employer efforts.” 38 U.S.C.
If there is no position of
like seniority, status, and pay for which Mary is qualified, or for which Mary
can become qualified with reasonable employer efforts, the employer must
reemploy Mary in the position which is the “nearest approximation … consistent
with the circumstances of such person’s case.”
38 U.S.C. 4313(a)(3)(B).
In a big company, there must
be another position that Mary is qualified to perform, or can become qualified
to perform. The employer must reemploy
Mary in that position, even if it means
displacing another employee. When
Mary has fully recovered from her wounds, she can return to the position that
she left in 2009, or the position that she would have attained if she had been
continuously employed and had not suffered the wounds.
I invite the reader’s
attention to Law Review 0640 (December 2006), by Lisa C. Cassilly, Esq. and
Matthew J. Gilligan, Esq. This is the
definitive article about the employer’s obligations to the returning disabled
veteran, under USERRA.
I invite your attention to www.roa.org/law_review. You will find
more than 700 articles about USERRA, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
(SCRA), the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), and
other laws that are particularly pertinent to those who serve our country in
uniform. You will also find a detailed
Subject Index and a search function, to facilitate finding articles about very
If you have questions about
USERRA, UOCAVA, the SCRA, or other military-relevant laws, and if you don’t
find an article on point in our Law Review Library, please call me at
800-809-9448, extension 730 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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