Third Circuit Ruling: Employer Paid Leave Benefits Must Extend to Reservists on Short-Term Military Leave
On August 10, 2021, the Third Circuit ruled that the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”) requires employers to provide paid leave to employees on military leave when they pay other employees for comparable forms of leave. The Appeals Court vacated the District Court’s order dismissing a lawsuit asserting that USERRA requires employers to pay reservists for short-term military leave.
The plaintiff, Gerard Travers, served in the U.S. Navy and the Naval Reserve. Travers also worked for Federal Express and fulfilled his reserve duties during leaves from work. FedEx did not pay Travers for his absences because its policies do not provide for pay for employees on military leave. However, FedEx pays employees who miss work for other reasons including jury duty and illness. Travers’ complaint challenged FedEx’s policy of paying employees who missed work for jury duty and illness but not military leave. The District Court dismissed the complaint, concluding that paid leave was not a “right and benefit” under USERRA. The Third Circuit found that two of USERRA’s provisions were at issue. First, § 4316(b)(1), which entitles employees taking military leave to the “other rights and benefits” their employers give to employees taking similar kinds of leave; and second § 4303(2), which defines those “other rights and benefits.”
The Third Circuit noted it had a limited task: interpreting USERRA’s statutory language consistent with its ordinary meaning at the time Congress enacted the statute. The Court considered how benefits were defined under USERRA. The Court concluded that USERRA entitles employees taking military leave to the “other rights and benefits” their employers give employees taking similar kinds of leave. The Court found that since FedEx pays employees who take non-military leaves for jury duty and health it places employees who take military leave and are not paid at a disadvantage. The Appeals Court sent the case back to the District Court for further proceedings.
Because of this decision, employers should review their military leave policies to ensure they are consistent with other paid leave policies. If such other leave is paid, it may be necessary to pay employees who take military leave.
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