Fisher Phillips Reminds Employers of Their Legal Duties to Our Servicemen and Women this Veterans Day
Nearly One Million Veterans in Texas Civilian Labor Force
Veterans Day holds significant importance in Texas, as it leads the nation in employing military veterans with an estimated 926,000 veterans work in civilian jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Texas tops the second leading state, California, by more than 85,000.
“Despite veterans making up nearly 10 percent of the state’s workforce, many private employers may not be well-versed regarding their legal duties to our vets,” said Kevin Troutman, partner in the Houston office of Fisher Phillips, a national labor and employment law firm. “To comply with the law, employers must be prepared to accommodate former service members who may have disabilities, as well as to reinstate employees who have taken leave to serve our country.”
Accommodate Wounded Warriors
The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) protects qualified applicants and employees with disabilities from discrimination. It imposes strict confidentiality rules, and requires employers to take affirmative steps to reasonably accommodate disabilities, if the accommodation enables otherwise qualified individuals to perform essential job functions. This requirement encompasses mental impairments, just as it would a veteran with a prosthetic limb or who is hard of hearing.
According to Troutman, companies are seeing an uptick in accommodation requests from veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Such requests may include schedule modifications, measures to help individuals avoid bright lights and loud noises, or possibly the allowance of a comfort animal. The ADAAA requires accommodation determinations to be made on a case-by-case basis and to be granted when they would enable the individual to perform essential job functions without imposing an undue hardship on the employer.
Reinstate Returning Veterans
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) provides important, detailed protections for returning service members. The law requires employers reinstate veterans who leave for training or to serve in uniformed services once they complete their service. This protection extends up to five years after the employee reports for duty.
To qualify for reinstatement, the employee must have honorably completed his or her service assignment, which could have been training, deployment or a full discharge from uniformed service. Employers must timely reinstate veterans to the positions they would have held if they had never taken military leave, which may include pay increases or promotions they would have received if not for their service. Additionally, employers must provide a refresher or other trainings that would have been furnished if not for the leave.
Not only is reinstatement required, but employers cannot terminate reinstated service members without cause during the first 6-12 months, depending upon the length of their absence for service. Further, employers cannot discriminate on the basis of an individual’s uniformed service or retaliate against employees for asserting these rights.
“Though the vast majority of employers have every intention of respecting and honoring our service men and women, these scenarios can present some obstacles, especially during difficult economic times,” said Troutman. “To protect themselves and to honor these heroes, it is important for employers to understand their obligations in these various scenarios. It’s not only the smart thing to do – it’s the right thing do.”