With hundreds of California employees being called to active duty and others volunteering as emergency service personnel as a result of the COVID-19 virus, employers are wondering what they need to do to support them while still maintaining an active workforce.
Many companies reap the benefits of hiring employees with experience gained from serving in the military or working as emergency rescue personnel. Both California and federal law have protections in place that grant certain rights to these employees and, in some instances, their spouses and family members. Employers need to understand their obligations surrounding employees who perform these essential services, including informing employees of their rights, accommodating their need for protected time off, and providing prompt reinstatement upon their return from service with extremely limited exceptions.
The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) and the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2004 (VBIA) protect civilian employment of military personnel when called to active duty. All employers are required to post a notice that includes information on the rights of military service personnel to protected time off, job reinstatement, and other benefits. Depending on the size of the employer, California law also provides additional protected leaves to employees who perform emergency duties such as volunteer firefighters, reserve peace officers, and others who serve in the Civil Air Patrol and California National Guard. It is key that employers understand that they are not permitted to discharge or in any manner discriminate against any member of the military forces regardless of whether they have been called to active duty.
If it is feasible to do so, employees are required to give their employers as much advance notice of their need for time off as possible so that employers can make preparations to continue business operations while supporting their need for leave. However, employers are prohibited from refusing such requests even when advance notice can’t be given.
In short, these individuals make it their mission to keep Americans safe and we all have a responsibility to support them during a crisis and help them return to the civilian workforce once the crisis has passed.