Job protection rules may help some vets

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Job protection rules may help some vets
by Kathryn Schneider

Chicago–Ruth Hahn was studying for a degree in criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, with hopes of becoming a police officer. A member of the U.S. Army Reserve, the 21-year old sophomore was about get the kind of real-world career training she would never forget.

On Dec. 27, 2002, Hahn’s reserve unit received orders to mobilize. Seven days later she was on her way to Fort Dicks, N.J, to prepare for service in Iraq.

“It happened very quickly,” she said. “I wasn’t thrilled I was going … but I was kind of excited.”

Hahn, now 24, spent 14 months in Um Qasr, Iraq, guarding Camp Bucca, one of the largest U.S. facilities for prisoners of war. She said experience in the Army gave her hands-on training for her career in police work. Hahn will serve on the Park Ridge police force after graduating from the police academy in April…

     

“When we actually crossed the border into Iraq, and the roads were lined with people cheering us on, no matter what we thought beforehand, we knew we were there for the right reason,” Hahn said.

After more than a year of guarding prisoners in sand storms and scorching heat, Hahn and her entire unit returned safely to the U.S. on Feb. 11, 2004.

Hahn then faced the challenge that faces many service men and women: What now?

Hahn returned to school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She applied for a job in a lighting factory to support herself while she finished her degree. When her boss asked about her military status, she proudly revealed her service.

“I would definitely always put it [on an application],” she said. “I think it’s a plus.”

Can’t discriminate

Federal legislation makes it illegal for employers to discriminate because of U.S. military service. The Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act, created in 1994, also affords returning veterans the opportunity to reclaim the jobs they held when they were called to duty.

U.S. Army Capt. Ignacio Maramba is an attorney who helps employers understand and comply with the Re-employment Act. He has also served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, giving legal counsel to military personnel.

As more troops are pulled out of Iraq, Afghanistan and other posts overseas, more employers will be faced with how to reinstate their employees as required by law, Maramba said. The law hasn’t been tested until now, he said, because the United States hasn’t deployed this many troops since the law took effect in 1994.

The law works on the “escalator” principle, Maramba said. Returning soldiers are entitled to the same pay, benefits and promotions as their peers – as if they had never gotten off the career escalator by being on active duty.

Some federal and state laws also allow military personnel to break leases early if they are called to duty and even reduce interest on loans while activated.

Brian Clauss, Park Ridge, a labor dispute mediator and arbitrator and Northwest Suburban Bar Association member, said he hasn’t seen a large number of conflicts over federal and state legislation, but more may pop up as troops return home, he said.

His hope is to prepare the parties involved before compliance becomes a widespread issue. The group has already been asked to speak for a number of groups around the country.

“We saw a need for this,” Clauss said. “We just want to educate people.”

Benefits to employers

The biggest challenge for reservists and national guard members can be to arrange for time away from work for required training and drills. But it will pay off for employers who can adjust schedules to accommodate that, Maramba said, because they’re getting a top-quality employee with leadership skills, discipline, physical fitness and punctuality.

“They want that person who manned a roadside checkpoint in Iraq, because she’s going to be cool under pressure,” Clauss said.

The bottom line, Clauss said, is that the group isn’t trying to create legal battles, but to encourage employers to do the right thing in supporting a member of the armed forces, both before and after they serve our country.

“Somewhere along the line, these people decided they would be willing to sacrifice their freedom so everyone else could have their freedom,” Maramba said.

“You’re losing an employee for a year. But someone is losing a family member for a year.”

 


http://www.pioneerlocal.com/cgi-bin/ppo-story/localnews/current/mg/03-30-06-874035.html

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