The United States, on a nationwide scale, protects military service members in several ways through the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act or USERRA. One of the ways is to require employers to reemploy service members after their service obligations are completed subject to a couple of extra requirements. But what about the lone star state? The good news is that Texas has laws to protect Texas military forces that track the protections extended to national military forces under USERRA. Chapter 437 of the Texas Government Code is the primary location for these employment protections.
Like most bodies of law, Chapter 437 has multiple provisions that apply to service members, but this article is intended to briefly hit upon 1) who is covered, 2) what that coverage means, 3) how do you become eligible for those protections, and 4) what do you do if your employer isn’t as familiar with the law as you surely will be after you finish reading.
1. Which service members are covered?
Chapter 437 is broad when it comes to its coverage and includes members of all military forces organized under Texas law. Specific forces include the Texas National Guard and the Texas State Guard.
2. Now that you’re covered, what do you win?
Well for one, you are entitled to up to 15 work days of paid leave of absence from your employer while participating in authorized training or while being called to duty. This means that from October 1st to September 30th, or to be fancy the federal fiscal year, as a member of a Texas military force you can have paid absences of 15 days for your military obligations.
Additionally, if called to active duty in response to a disaster, Texas military force members are given up to seven additional days of paid leave of absence, again during that same fancy fiscal year — a potential of 22 days of paid leave of absence in total every fiscal year.
3. How do you claim your prize?
Although state military members are entitled to these protections, there are some steps to take before these protections are really put to work. As a Texas military force member, you should alert your employer that you are a member of the Texas military force and be able to provide proof of membership. If you receive notice that you will have training or duty obligations, you have to tell your employer as soon as possible that you have those obligations. After you have completed the duty, you have to tell your employer to expect you back at work and then return to your normal employment as soon as you are able after your release from duty.
4. So you claimed your prize, but your employer is not exactly following the rules, what can you do?
Chapter 437 violations come under the purview of the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division. Some common violations are if you tell your employer you need to report to duty or authorized training and your employer decides to terminate you. Another one would be if you return to work and your employer lets you know that you will not be reinstated to the same employment that you had before you left for service obligations. And finally, if you are out for duty or authorized training and the employer punishes you for it by taking away your vacation time, performance ratings, or any benefit provided by the employer.
If any of those violations apply to you or think apply to you, reach out to a Dallas employment lawyer to help you navigate how to keep your prize.