Employment and consumer protections exist so service members can focus on the mission at hand

OLYMPIA — As Washington National Guard soldiers and airmen face potential mobilization to help with the COVID-19 outbreak, Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working to raise awareness about their legal rights if they are mobilized, some of which are relatively new.

Employment and consumer protections allow National Guard soldiers and airmen to focus on their active duty without worrying about losing their civilian job or racking up unnecessary debt. Legislation Ferguson proposed in 2014 and 2018 extended these protections to Washington’s National Guard.

In a letter to Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, the Adjutant General and director of the Washington Military Department, Ferguson outlines the federal and state employment and consumer protections that cover Guard members called to active duty, as well as legal resources available through the Attorney General’s Office of Military & Veteran Legal Assistance (OMVLA).

“Washingtonians can be grateful knowing that a professional and prepared National Guard is ready to help with the emergency,” Ferguson said. “We are grateful for their selflessness and service. As Attorney General, I want to make sure that all National Guard soldiers and airmen know my office stands ready to support them and their mission of helping keep us all safe.”

On Sunday, President Trump approved federal funding for the use of Washington National Guard soldiers and airmen if they are needed, but they have not yet been activated to help with the state’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

National Guard protections and resources outlined in the letter include:

  • Employment protections under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and its state law equivalent. Both federal and state law protect the job rights of individuals who have to temporarily leave their civilian job to undertake military service. More information is available at: https://www.atg.wa.gov/employment-protections-veterans-military-personnel
  • Consumer protections specific to service members under the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and state laws. The SCRA provides a range of protections, including, for example, a cap on interest rates, rights to terminate residential or automobile leases, and protections against repossession. More information is available at: https://www.atg.wa.gov/consumer-protections-veterans-military-personnel. Individuals concerned their SCRA rights may have been violated should file a consumer complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

Until 2014, some of these protections would not have applied to Washington National Guard members called to active duty during an emergency. That year, Attorney General Ferguson successfully proposed joint-request legislation with Gov. Jay Inslee to expand protections under federal laws like the SCRA and USERRA to Washington National Guard members. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, also gave the Attorney General’s Office the power to enforce these protections. In September of 2018, Ferguson filed an enforcement action against a Tacoma tow company for violating the SCRA by unlawfully selling the vehicle of an active duty Navy sailor at auction.

In 2018, Attorney General request legislation sponsored by Rep. Christine Kilduff, D-University Place, expanded these service member consumer protections to include canceling or suspending gym memberships, internet and television subscription services, satellite radio services and more without fear of penalties or fees.

The Attorney General’s Office of Military & Veteran Legal Assistance was created by Attorney General request legislation in the 2017 session to promote and facilitate access to civil legal services for Washington’s current and former military service members. OMVLA is authorized to recruit and train volunteer attorneys, maintain a registry of available services and volunteers, assess requests for legal assistance and refer such requests to registered volunteer attorneys and legal aid providers.