CHICAGO – Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn today urged every Illinois employer to re-examine their policy regarding military leaves for employees who serve in the National Guard or reserves.
“As the war continues and call-ups of Illinois citizen soldiers increase, we need to remind Illinois employers that federal law prohibits discrimination against members of the armed forces and requires employers to reinstate an employee who has taken time off to serve,” Quinn said.
This week, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced he was calling up an additional 15,000 National Guard troops. Reserve and National Guard troops now comprise 37 percent of the total force in Iraq, up from 22 percent. More than 9,000 Illinois National Guard members have been called to active duty since September 11, 2001.
Quinn was joined by Bonnie Marcukaitis – wife of Army Reserve Sgt Anthony Marcukaitis who was fired by Country Insurance Company while on active duty in Iraq – to remind Illinois employers they may not fire National Guard members or reservists under federal law.
Sgt. Marcukaitis, a 56-year old Vietnam vet from Carol Stream, Illinois who has worked as an insurance adjuster at Country Company for five years, was notified by the company on November 11 – Veterans’ Day – that he had been terminated since his active duty service had extended beyond nine months.
The company has since rescinded the policy and reinstated Sgt. Marcukaitis with full benefits.
Quinn said he was glad Country Company changed its policy, but said it highlighted the need for employers to be aware of federal protections of service members in the civilian workforce.
“Every Illinois employer, supervisor and floor boss is hereby put on notice,” Quinn said. “Discrimination against our citizen soldiers will not be tolerated.” Quinn urged any National Guard member or reservist and their families who face job discrimination or possible job loss to visit his website (www.OperationHomeFront.org) or call toll-free at 1-866-417-8889.
Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (or “USERRA”), an employee in the military, National Guard or reserves must be reinstated in his or her job upon return from service if the employee 1) gave proper notice, 2) spent no more than five years on leave and 3) was released from military service under honorable conditions.
“Country Company’s slogan is ‘Real People. Real Answers. Real Quick’,” Quinn said. “Because of Country’s original policy, they put a real face on this problem. Because they acted quickly to rescind the policy and reinstate Sergeant Marcukaitis, they found the right answer. Let their experience instruct other employers.”
Noting this week is National Employer Support of the National Guard and Reserve Week, Quinn was also joined by Pat Rea and John Scully of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve of Illinois.
“Any company’s workforce is better off with veterans,” Quinn said. “Employees with military service have a strong sense of teamwork, self-discipline and duty.”
Quinn urged employers and the families of employees to visit www.OperationHomefront.org for specific details about the USERRA and other laws protecting those who serve, such as the Soldier and Sailor Civil Relief Act of 1940 and the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund.
“This federal law lets our citizen soldiers know they won’t have to worry about fighting for their jobs back on the homefront when they’re on patrol in Iraq or Afghanistan,” Quinn said. “They have plenty to worry about now and are already making enough sacrifices.”