Debate Over Proposed USERRA Job Protection for Military Spouses
Military spouse unemployment rates are as high as 20%. That’s a situation many in the Department of Defense are eager to fix, and now lawmakers on Capitol Hill want to expand the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) to include job protections for military spouses to get closer to what members of the Guard and Reserve enjoy.
But not everyone is convinced it’s a good idea or that it will do as much good as proponents believe it might.
“Deep Reservations” About Adding Spouse Job Protections?
Military lobbyists and opposing lawmakers testified before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs in June 2023, some voicing “deep reservations” about a proposal introduced on June 7, 2023, to modify USERRA.
That proposal includes changing the rules to offer military spouses reemployment rights when a PCS move causes the absence and does not exceed two years in a row or five years total. Reserve component members have similar protections when they must deploy and have to leave their civilian jobs behind.
According to one source, the Department of Labor made a request to accommodate USERRA modifications along such lines, asking for nearly $6 million in funds for implementation.
Not everyone agrees that modifying USERRA will bring the intended results. Navy Times reports Wisconsin Representative Derrick Van Orden on record stating, “I don’t think it’s the United States government’s place to exercise these mandates on companies when the person that’s involved didn’t sign a contract” for military duty.
Meredith M. Smith of the National Military Family Association also went on record, quoted in the same Navy Time article saying, “We are concerned that the requirement to hold a position open for a military spouse following a military-ordered move would be seen as burdensome by employers, potentially making them less likely to hire spouses,” according to Navy Times.
Not everyone disagrees about giving military spouses similar rights as Guard and Reserve members under USERRA or feels it might be a bad idea.
Navy Times also quoted Kevin Hollinger, of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, as a voice supporting USERRA modifications.
“Spouses often must take time away from their employment to figure out new schedules” due to deployments, TDYs, remote unaccompanied tours, and more.
“At a moment’s notice, they become the sole head of the house,” Hollinger says, and the ability to put a job on hold for such circumstances could go a long way toward improving morale and retention.
At press time, this law has been proposed, but it is not headed for the President’s desk to be signed or vetoed–it’s nowhere near that stage of the process. It’s early days for this particular legislation, and it remains to be seen whether it will languish or be acted upon and moved further into the lawmaking process in Washington, D.C.
About the author
Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.