Overview: A number of laws on the state and federal level apply to the employment of veterans and workers who perform military service. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), as well as its state counterparts, prohibit applicant and employee discrimination and retaliation based on prior, current or future military service. USERRA generally applies to service in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force Coast Guard and the Reserves; the Army National Guard and Air National Guard; and the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Employers also have an obligation under USERRA to accommodate an eligible employee's uniformed services leave request and to reinstate an eligible employee (with some exceptions) after he or she has served.
A veteran may be protected under federal and state family and medical leave laws if he or she returns from military service and is suffering from a serious health condition. In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its state counterparts may offer protection if a veteran suffers from a disability. This means, for example, that an employer may not refuse to hire a veteran because he or she has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), because he or she was previously diagnosed with PTSD or because the employer assumes the employee has PTSD.
The Vietnam Era Veteran's Readjustment Act of 1972 (VEVRAA) addresses the employment of veterans and ensures that veterans have equal employment opportunity in the workforce. Under VEVRAA, federal contractors and subcontractors are obligated to take positive actions to hire and promote veterans. Such employers are required to report their efforts toward hiring and employing veterans and are obligated to have an affirmative action plan that addresses veteran employment.
All employers should aim to develop policies and practices to eliminate discrimination against veterans and those workers who perform military service. Further, employers should implement hiring practices to encourage the employment of veterans.
Trends: In response to the increased number of veterans returning to the workforce after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance with regard to the hiring and employment of veterans. Some of these veterans may have become disabled in the course of serving in the military and are entitled to the protection of the ADA and other state and local disability discrimination laws. Employers need to understand their obligations to reasonably accommodate such individuals and not discriminate against them when it comes to interviewing and hiring.
Author: Melissa Burdorf, JD, Legal Editor
Updated to reflect expansion of military protections, effective January 9, 2020.
Updated to include the Civil Air Patrol leave law, effective October 1, 2019.
Updated to include information from a DOL Fact Sheet regarding pension contributions upon reinstatement.
At its 2019 annual conference and exposition, SHRM reinforced its call for employers to increase hiring and inclusion of underrepresented groups.
Updated to reflect an amendment regarding employees covered by the state volunteer emergency responder leave law, effective August 1, 2019.
Updated to reflect the Illinois Service Member Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, effective January 1, 2019.
Updated to reflect amendments to the antidiscrimination provisions of the Military and Veterans Code, effective January 1, 2019.
HR guidance on developing policies and practices regarding hiring and accommodating veterans in the workplace.