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Is my job protected when I'm volunteering out-of-state?

Q: Is my job protected if I volunteer to work out-of-state with hurricane victims

A: I appreciate your good intentions--this season's hurricanes have been especially devastating. But unless you are a volunteer with one of the uniformed services, your unselfish act could put your job at risk.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA U.S.C.4301-4333) protects members of the uniformed services. USERRA provides a broad definition of "service in the uniformed services," including the performance of duty on a voluntary or involuntary basis in a uniformed service under competent authority. USERRA specifically refers to active duty, active duty for training, initial active duty for training, inactive duty training, full-time National Guard duty, a period for which a person is absent from a position of employment for the purpose of an examination to determine fitness of the person to perform any such duty, and a period for which a person is absent from a position of employment for the purpose of performing funeral honors duty.

Some other reasons for work absence have legal protection. For example, state law protects employees who leave work for jury service or are subpoenaed to appear in court. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires some leave to be granted eligible employees in case of serious personal illness, the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for an immediate family member with serious health condition.  Title VII requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation--such as unpaid leave or the ability to use paid leave time--for religious holidays or observances.

But these special protections don't appear to apply to your volunteer service. Please follow up with your UniServ Director (UD), who can provide more information and help you review local school policies for leave. Your UD can also give you information about National Education Association Hurricane relief projects, which include fundraising, grants to help educators, and a program matching donors with schools needing supplies. (Check out the NEA Web site for additonal information.) There are excellent ways to help without leaving your school.


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