Veteran Discrimination: Know the Signs and How to Respond
Committing to a military career is a big sacrifice for our service members. It means time away from family, a potentially dangerous job description, and the possibility of veteran discrimination after when transitioning into civilian life.
Discrimination against veterans in the workplace isn’t just something that veterans battle on the job, it’s also something that veterans battle just getting the job. In order to protect the men and women who have served in our armed forces from experiencing discrimination in the workplace, there are laws in place that employers must follow. However, it’s important to know the signs of discriminatory practices and what to do about it.
Signs of Veteran Discrimination in Job Interviews
For many veterans, the issues involved with civilian employment starts with finding a job. Though there are plenty of reasons to hire veterans, many have to seek out resources to help find work because of veteran discrimination. And even then, discrimination within a job interview is a problem as well. It’s important to know the signs of veteran discrimination before hire as well as in the workplace.
- Refusal to hire or interview former military or reservists
If you have served or are serving in the military, and an employer refuses to hire you or interview you because of your military status, that is illegal discrimination. Whether the discrimination is due to fear of a veteran’s mental state, an unwillingness to work with a reservist’s absence, or any other reason tied to their military status, it’s illegal. Discrimination isn’t always easy to prove, but if you experience what you feel is unfair treatment in the hiring and interview process, you can still make note of those experiences and file a complaint with the Department of Labor.
- Ambivalence in accommodating a disability
If an employer is fine with your military status but is refusing to hire due to your service-connected disability, that still falls under veteran discrimination. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), if a veteran can perform all the duties of the job with a reasonable accommodation, the accommodation must be provided. Refusing to hire someone because of their disability isn’t legal and it’s important for returning service members to know that.
Signs of Veteran Discrimination in the Workplace
Not only are there laws keeping employers from discriminating against hiring veterans, there are also laws protecting veterans once they are hired. These laws are in place to ensure fair treatment for all past and present military members who have left the military, could be asked to return to active duty, or who have responsibilities as a reservist. Knowing your employee rights under The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is vital in noticing the signs of discrimination in the workplace.
- Claiming your job is no longer available
If you left your position at your civilian job to complete drill or any active duty responsibilities and your employer claims your job is no longer available, they are breaking the law. Unless your department or position was completely removed or you didn’t meet your expectations for return under USERRA, you are legally allowed your job back upon your return.
- Refusing to adjust your pay following service
Not only are you legally allowed your job back, you can also gain seniority, receive promotions, and get pay raises while on leave. Refusing to adjust you pay to what you would be making had you not left on active duty is discrimination. It’s your employer’s job to provide training so that you’re able to integrate back into your position and any promotions when you return.
- Withholding or removing benefits or vacation time
In the same way that you’re able to qualify for adjusted pay, you’re also allowed to keep your benefits and vacation time. This includes vacation time and other benefits gained by seniority. You’re also given rights to maintain health coverage and pension plans. The removal of any of these benefits is illegal.
- Harassment from employers or coworkers
If you’re being harassed at work or by employers or coworkers due to your military status, you’re protected under the USERRA. Though harassment issues can be taken to your company’s HR department, legal intervention using the USERRA is an option if your company isn’t advocating for you.
- Refusing to accommodate disability or allowing medical leave
Your employer has to hire you back after leave, even if you come back with a service-connected disability as long as you can still complete your job with reasonable accommodation. Not only that, your employer must also allow time off for medical care.
What To Do About Discrimination Against Veterans
All employers should understand their obligations to accommodate their veteran employees. If they don’t, you’re within your rights to take action against their discrimination. Service members have experienced discrimination or workplace harassment because of their service in many different ways by their employers, for that reason there are steps you can take to protect yourself. No matter which stage of your military veteran status you’re in, you should know how to know the signs of discrimination and how to respond to them.
- Take notes
Always take notes and keep documentation. If you experience discrimination or harassment due to your military status, the burden of proof is on your shoulders. If you have an agreement with your employer to return back to work, get it in writing. If someone was a witness to harassment, get a statement from them. Taking notes will help you later on if your discrimination complaint has to be proven.
- Contact your company Human Resources department
Sometimes contacting your company’s HR department is the fastest and most effective way to see change. Bring your complaint to them along with your knowledge on the USERRA or ADA, whichever is applicable, and a good HR department will see that your needs are met.
- File a claim with the Department of Labor
Filing a claim with the Department of Labor can help you return to your job, get back pay, receive lost benefits, etc. However, the time frame is longer. You’re still entitled to all the help the Department of Labor can offer, just be aware that it won’t be a timely process – which is important to note in cases where you may be unemployed and without benefits.
- Talk to your local VA office
The VA is a one-stop location for all things in the veteran sphere from employment help to medical care. Your VA office might have some great local resources available to help you with any employer discrimination questions or action you may require.
- Speak with an attorney
You may need to file a harassment lawsuit. There are attorneys who specialize in this type of law and will have more answers on direct action based on your experience in your state. This resource will of course come with a price tag, but some situations call for a direct action in a timely manner and an attorney will have all of those answers.
- Take advantage of employment resources
If you are experiencing discrimination as a result of your military status, you may want to find other employment while you file with the Department of Labor or wait for your attorney to take action. There are plenty of employment resources for veterans including programs, job openings, and resource lists outlining businesses that focus on hiring veterans and accommodating them.
Being a veteran is not always an easy experience. Not only do service members agree to serve their country, they also run the risk of returning back to their country where they experience discrimination. If you’re a veteran who is rejoining the workforce and feels as though your veteran status is hindering your employment, it might be time to take note of the signs of discrimination to see if they fit your situation. If they do, know the steps that need to be taken. Know that there are laws protecting you as well as many businesses that prioritize veteran employment. If one employer doesn’t follow their obligation to you as a service member, there are others who will, and laws to punish those who don’t.
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Chelsy is a writer from Montana who now lives in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She enjoys talk radio, cold coffee, and playing Frisbee with her dog, Titan. Follow Chelsy on Twitter @Chelsy5
This post was updated February 28, 2019. It was originally published February 27, 2018.