As we commemorate Veterans Day, an employer should take note of the tremendous talent, skills and qualifications veterans can bring to the workplace. Through their sense of leadership and commitment, veterans can enrich a workforce, improve an employer’s public image and bring a sense of patriotism to the organization. However, very often veterans encounter difficulties in finding jobs, suffer from disabilities, or experience discrimination and harassment on the job. Here are four tips for an employer to follow when managing veterans in the workplace:
Prohibit Discrimination against Veterans and Military Members
It is critical to implement and enforce equal employment opportunity policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and retaliation against veterans and members of the military.
Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), an employer may not discriminate against individuals based on their military obligations and must provide job protection and reinstatement rights if they leave their civilian jobs, voluntarily or involuntarily, to serve in the uniformed services, the reserve forces or in a state national guard.
State counterparts to USERRA also require an employer to make a reasonable effort to assist veterans in returning to employment. Several states and cities have expanded the reach of these laws to provide job protection to individuals who serve in the national guard of another state. For instance, Chicago and Massachusetts consider veterans and members of the military to be in a protected class.
Thus, supervisors and those with managerial authority should make sure to provide veterans, and those taking leave for service in the military or National Guard, with reinstatement rights and job protections. Employers also should make sure to implement and enforce military leave policies and EEO policies protecting veterans. Such policies should be made part of the employee handbook and training should be provided to all employees and supervisors.
In addition, employers should maintain comprehensive documentation regarding any adverse actions taken against veterans and make sure that legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons support these actions. Keep in mind that under USERRA, veterans returning to work after military service may not be discharged except “for cause.”
Grant Requests for Reasonable Accommodations if No Undue Hardship
An employer should be willing to provide reasonable accommodations to veterans who suffer from disabilities (i.e., missing limbs, spinal cord injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), hearing loss and other impairments) as defined by the ADA and similar state and municipal laws if an accommodation would permit the individual to perform the essential job functions and would not create an undue hardship for the employer. Reasonable accommodations may include:
• Physical changes to the workplace (i.e., to accommodate a wheelchair);
• Modified equipment/devices and technology (i.e., to accommodate blindness);
• Modified or part time work schedules;
• A job coach or assistant; or
• Leave for treatment, recuperation or training.
The EEOC recently released specific guidance addressing leaves as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. The EEOC advises that in determining whether a leave of absence is a reasonable accommodation, an employer should make a good faith effort to engage in the interactive process and consider the following factors:
• Amount and/or length of leave required;
• Frequency of the leave;
• Whether the days on which leave may be taken are flexible; and
• Whether the need for intermittent leave is predictable or unpredictable.
Even if an employer does not offer leave as a benefit, or an employee is ineligible or has exhausted his or her leave, your organization should consider providing unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability unless it would impose an undue hardship on the company’s operations or finances.
An employer should track veteran requests for time off and maintain records regarding whether the request was granted or denied. If a request is denied, the organization should ensure that the denial was based on legitimate nondiscriminatory business reasons.
Consider Providing Preferential Hiring to Veterans
In recognizing the difficulties veterans may face, while at the same time the unique skills and experience they can bring to the workplace, many states have enacted veterans’ preference laws which permit an employer to provide otherwise qualified veterans, and sometimes their spouses, with a preference when it comes to hiring and, in some cases, promotions and reductions in force.
These laws specify that implementing a veterans’ preference policy does not violate state or local equal employment opportunity laws. An employer should make sure to review the law of the jurisdiction in which it operates. It’s also worth considering targeted outreach to veteran’s organizations to increase the number of veterans in the organization.
Create Employee Resource Groups for Veterans
In order to promote a diverse and inclusive workplace where veterans and military members feel valued and respected, an employer should consider creating employee resource or affinity groups. Such groups are a way to show that the employer actively supports veterans and military members, and is willing to provide mentoring and networking opportunities for them.
These resource groups can also help efforts to make onboarding veterans easier and provide them with assistance and resources when transitioning into civilian life. Such groups can also increase camaraderie among vets and improve their morale by providing them with the opportunity to network and share similar issues and experiences while identifying resources both within and outside the organization.