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Are you required to pay employees on military leave?

May 28, 2021 | Employment litigation

Properly compensating workers is a major responsibility for employers across California. Failure to do so can lead to costly legal disputes and penalties for wage or hour violations. 

However, not all wage-related issues are clear or known to employers. Several complications can arise when it comes to when and how much employers must pay their workers. For instance, some employers – but not all – need to pay employees on military leave.

Legal requirements for short-term military leave

According to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), employers providing paid leave for jury duty and bereavement must also pay for short-term military leave. More specifically, they must continue to pay employees who take leave from a civilian job for active duty and active duty training for up to 30 days. 

However, leave extending beyond that time and leave for inactive duty can be unpaid. And state laws provide more protection for California National Guardsmen. Further, some employers are exempt from USERRA, while others may be obligated to comply with other state laws governing military leave. There are also requirements preventing employers from firing workers on military leave.

In other words, there are several nuances of federal and state laws regarding military leave that can make it confusing for some employers to know whether they must pay a service member.

Costly mistakes to avoid

If you are unsure of your duty to pay employees serving in the military, it can be crucial to talk to an attorney about your situation. Failure to do so could wind up causing problems in terms of money, resources and public image. 

Recently, for instance, Amazon employees claimed the retail behemoth failed to pay thousands of workers who took short-term military leave. There is now a proposed class-action lawsuit that could cost the company millions, as was the case when Walmart faced similar accusations.

Employers hoping to avoid this problem can do so by reviewing the legal obligations regarding paid military leave. It can also be wise to clearly describe your military leave policy in a document available to all workers.