Early in January of this year, a federal review board ordered the United States’ Postal Service (USPS) to reinstate and provide back pay for one of its former employees. There are a number of details that make this order more surprising than one would think. Two of the more shocking aspects of this story are how long ago the USPS terminated the employee, and the amount of money owed in back pay. Other surprising details are who was fired and why. Sadly, if recent reports are any indication this may not be the last time that similar orders are given.
Sgt. Maj. Richard Erickson, currently on active duty with the National Guard, began working as a postal clerk in 1988. Prior to joining the USPS, Erickson served in the military, and later joined the National Guard while still working at the Post Office. In 2000, 14 years ago, the US Postal Service fired him. According to the letter he received while serving overseas with the National Guard, the USPS felt he had taken too much time off to serve in the military. Aside from taking away the civilian job Erickson was expecting to return to after his service, the termination also prevented him from seeking other government jobs outside of the National Guard. Needless to say, this surprised Erickson. Even more surprising was the USPS’s continuous appeals to unfavorable court and review board rulings on the matter over the last seven years.
The USPS claims Erickson’s abandoned his position with his continued absence due to his work in the National Guard. Additionally, the USPS claims Erickson did not request his job back in a timely manner when he finished his National Guard duties. The review board felt differently, but it is still unclear whether the USPS will comply with the order or continue to appeal. Meanwhile, Erickson is unsure whether he will return to his former position even if it is offered for fear of being fired shortly after his return for some small reason in retaliation. Regardless
of whether of he does return or not, his back pay is calculated to be about $2 million.
Service Member Employment Protections
Erickson’s employment was protected under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) which was signed into law in 1994. Under this law, individuals who are not
full-time military service members receive protections against losing their civilian jobs if they are called to active service. The law also prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their military status or obligations. The law sets guidelines for employers and uniformed service members. For instance, uniformed service members must give advanced notice, when possible, of their leave. And the employee’s civilian position is only protected for five years. Additionally, the employee has to request reemployment in a “timely manner” upon return. The guidelines even give employers a time frame for what constitutes a “timely manner.” Based on the USPS’s repeated failed appeals, Erickson met the requirements under the USERRA.
If you feel you have been wrongfully terminated because of you military service, contact a Washington employment law attorney for help.