By Eric B. Meyer
To improve the reinstatement rights of returning war veterans, and to add more enforcement teeth to the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), Pennsylvania Sen. Robert Casey reintroduced the Service members Access to Justice Act (SAJA) last week.
The SAJA was last introduced in 2008, at which time the SAJA stalled out in the Veterans Committee. According to this Casey press release, the 2012 version of SAJA would meet four objectives:
- Make it easier for service members to obtain justice when their employment rights are violated by prohibiting employers from requiring service members to give up their ability to have their old job back as condition of employment. For example, under the bill an employer could not force a service member to automatically give up his job when he or she is called into service. A service member could voluntarily leave their job upon deployment but could not be forced to as a condition for being hired.
- Enhance the remedies available to service members who prove that their rights under existing veteran anti-discrimination laws were violated, by adding minimum liquidated damages for willful violations and punitive damages for violations committed with malice.
- Require that federal agencies provide notice to contractors of potential USERRA obligation.
- Include a provision for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report requiring study of current employer education programs and soliciting recommendations for ways in which government agencies such as the Small Business Administration and the Defense Department Employer Support for Guard and Reserve could cooperate to enhance employer education.
According to the same press release, the unemployment rate for veterans in Pennsylvania is 7.3 percent. Here in Philadelphia, it’s a staggering 16.6 percent. Gary Weckselblatt reports in The Intelligencer that, nationally, 1,438 new claims of discrimination were filed by veterans with the U.S. Department of Labor in 2010, which is a 30 percent rise over recent years.
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It remains to be seen whether SAJA will be successful.
This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.