05/01/12 A City of Plymouth employee who also serves as a U.S. Military Reserve Officer is claiming entitlement to City longevity pay for time spent on leave of absence from the City while being deployed.

City Attorney Sean Surrisi explained that Longevity pay is additional compensation that the City provides to qualified employees as an incentive to remain in service to the City. For employees on a leave of absence, City ordinance states that longevity pay will be prorated based on the number of months of actual work performed during the year. The employee in question received prorated longevity pay for time actually worked, but also claims entitlement to longevity pay for the entire year under the terms of a federal statute.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is a federal law enacted in 1994 that protects civilian job rights and benefits for veterans and reserve troops who may be absent from their jobs during military service. The Act applies to both governmental and private employers. USERRA provides that it supersedes any conflicting local law that “reduces, limits or eliminates” any rights or benefits of a service member.

The U.S. Department of Labor has its own rules and regulations interpreting USERRA, which provide, in part, that “an employee who is absent from a position of employment by reason of service is not entitled to greater benefits than would be generally provided to a similarly situated employee on non-military furlough or leave of absence.”

The City of Plymouth maintains that its ordinance does not conflict with USERRA and that the employee in question was treated no better or no worse than any non-military employee on a leave of absence. “The City complies with all federal, state, and local laws when figuring payroll,” said Plymouth Clerk-Treasurer Toni Hutchings. She also provided, “Our ordinance has been in effect since 1989 and states that the proration of longevity pay is ‘in the interest of fiscal responsibility and fairness.’”

Also concerning to City officials is the potential application of Indiana’s Ghost Employment statute. That statute generally prohibits a governmental entity from paying an employee for work that has not been performed. Questions arise as to whether making the requested longevity payment would violate that statute.

“As the son of a veteran, I’m very thankful for the service of the men and women in the military, and I’m particularly proud of our Plymouth employees who serve,” said Plymouth Mayor Mark Senter. He further stated, “As Mayor, the people of Plymouth have given me a trust to enforce their ordinances and my Administration must prove faithful in serving as well.”

USERRA allows for enforcement actions to be brought on the service member’s behalf by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). DOJ has discussed the matter with the City for some time now and may file suit in the near future, leaving a court to determine whether the longevity pay is due in light of the differing local, state, and federal laws.