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Governor signs National Guard employment rights bill into law


The Guard during the 2015 wildfires in Central Washington were on state active duty.

Governor signs National Guard employment rights bill into law

Legislation signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on March 10 helps ensure Washington National Guard soldiers and airmen returning from fighting wildfires, floods or some other kind of state emergency will be able to get back to their civilian jobs.

Senate Bill 6202, sponsored by state Sen. Steve Hobbs, is one of 10 pieces of legislation signed by the governor related to public health and safety on the last day of the regular session. State Rep. Brad Klippert sponsored similar legislation in the House.

As detailed in this previous blog post, while on duty or during training sessions, Guard members are typically under federal designations and, thus, are protected by the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. That means a Guard member deployed overseas is able to return to their civilian job when they return home – and their job is supposed to be there waiting for them. If a soldier or airman runs into issues, the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve ombudsman (ESGR) is there to help inform the company of the law and work through any issues.

However, Guard members called up by the governor for a state emergency—such as the recent wildfires or the Oso landslide – are activated under state active duty service. Current state law puts the ESGR as the responsible party for sorting out those issues, as well. But federal law says the agency, located within the Department of Defense, is only supposed to help with federal-related matters.

The new law, which passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate, gives The Adjutant General the primary responsibility for resolving disputes with employers alleged to have violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. The Attorney General's obligation to enforce employment rights arises only after the Adjutant General has been unable to resolve the matter with the employer.

“I’d like to thank Governor Inslee for recognizing the value of this legislation and choosing to sign it into law,” said Nancy Bickford, the Intergovernmental Affairs and Policy Director for the Washington Military Department. “Thanks, also, to our prime sponsors Senator Hobbs and Representative Klippert and our Legislature for unanimously approving it. Our Guard members are there for us during the worst state disasters and I’m glad we can all be there for them when they need our help getting their civilian jobs back on track.”