Returning Veterans Protected by Special Employment Laws
As military action in the Mideast winds down, large numbers of U.S. soldiers are returning home. First, you spend time decompressing from the pressures of war and enjoying friends and family. Next, you look for work – either finding a new job or returning to an old one.
The White House in 2011 projected that 1 million veterans would be returning to civilian life over the next five years. Unfortunately, while the economy is improving, the job market is not keeping pace.
In this tight market, returning veterans should know that they have certain rights. Employers should understand that they have certain incentives and obligations when it comes to hiring returning veterans.
Who Is a Veteran?
Service in the military/uniformed services is broadly interpreted to include the armed forces and reserves, the National Guard, the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and those designated by the president in times of war or national emergency.
Federal Efforts to Spur Veteran Employment
President Obama in 2011 challenged the private sector to hire and train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013. Since then, dozens of employers have committed to hire veterans. By August 2013, this goal had been surpassed with 125,000 hires.
Under the recently re-enacted American Jobs Act, employers qualify for tax credits if they hire military veterans. The “returning heroes” programs gives employers a tax credit of up to $5,600 for hiring an unemployed veteran. The “wounded warrior” programs offers a tax credit of up to $9,600 for hiring an unemployed veteran with a service-connected disability.
Under final rules issued in August 2013, 200,000 private companies that contract with the federal government must demonstrate that they are taking steps to hire veterans. The target is for veterans to constitute 8 percent of a contractor’s or subcontractor’s workforce. Companies who fail to meet the goals can jeopardize their contracts.
Private Efforts to Employ Veterans
Private companies have launched their own efforts to recognize the sacrifice of U.S. veterans and their employment needs. In early 2013, Wal-Mart announced a plan to hire every veteran who wants a job, provided the veteran left the military in the previous year and was honorably discharged. The 100,000 Jobs Mission involves 113 private-sector companies that are sharing best practices on how to recruit, retain and support veterans.
Returning to an Old Job
The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act protects individuals in the armed forces who leave their employment to serve in the military and return with an honorable discharge. The veteran must apply for reinstatement within 180 days following the end of service.
USERRA states that qualified individuals must be restored to the job and benefits level they would have achieved had they not left their employment for military service. If that is not possible, the service member must be provided with a comparable job. In general, employers must hold a job for five years.
Plus, returning service members cannot be fired without cause for a period of six months to a year (depending on their length of service) after they return to a job they held previously. For this period of time, they are exempt from “at will” employment standards. If the returning veteran is disabled, the employer must provide reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Discrimination Is Not Allowed
Many employers express concern about hiring or re-hiring returning veterans, citing conditions like drug use and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Under USERRA, veterans are a protected class. They are protected against discrimination based on past or present military service in decisions regarding hiring, re-employment, retention in employment, promotion or any other employment benefits.