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How might military service affect employment?

If you are interested in joining the military but are presently employed, you may have questions about how your military service could impact your employment status. Serving in the military is a noble pursuit. Worries about your job should not dissuade you from enlistment. In fact, you are federally protected from discrimination in the workplace while serving in the military.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act is the go-to law that protects service members from workplace discrimination. There were 1,328 cases filed in 2013 with 25 percent of complaints involving allegations of improper reinstatement following return from service.

Basic protections

Whether you choose active duty or a reserve component, the protections are largely the same. Those who serve on active duty can return to their civilian career up to five years after leaving for the military. Reservists and guardsmen are also protected for five cumulative years if they are activated.

USERRA protects your right to advancement and raises while you are away. If you are entitled to a raise after one year of employment, you should receive it even if you are away for military service.

Not only is your right to work protected, but you can also maintain access to the health care and 401(k) benefits you enjoy. Enrollment, fees and employer contributions to health care plans and retirement benefits can depend on the length of time spent away from your job, but access should remain nonetheless.

Your duty as an employee

Mobilizations can be last minute, especially as a reservist or guardsman. Regardless, you should give your employer verbal or written notice of your absence as soon as possible. If you are gone for longer than 30 days, switching to TRICARE is recommended.

However, if the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) protects your employer's health care plan, you are entitled to keep it at up to 102 percent of your premium price (the standard cost plus a two percent service fee).

When you are away for service, you may be required to continue contributions to your 401(k) to remain eligible for benefits. Your employer can provide you with information specific to your plan.

If you are a current service member or are considering enlistment, you should report any discrimination by your employer. An employment law attorney can help you better understand your protections under the law.

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