The tradition of annually recognizing the courage and contribution of veterans dates back to November 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. November 11 became a national holiday in 1938, and employers in both the private and public sectors continue to search for ways to thank veterans for their service and sacrifices. As Veterans Day approaches, we review two particular types of state statutes intended to benefit veterans: holiday leave laws, and laws allowing preferences for veterans in employment.
First, there are several states—including Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Oregon—that require employers to give a day off to veteran employees on November 11.1 In each of these jurisdictions, the employee seeking leave should provide advance notice. Generally, the time off may be unpaid, at the employer’s election. In Massachusetts, on the other hand, employers with 50 or more employees must grant paid leave to veterans on Veterans Day, if those employees intend to participate in activities related to the holiday. For its part, Tennessee encourages employers to provide holiday time off to veterans who otherwise would be scheduled to work on Veterans Day, but leave there is not mandatory.
Second, more than 30 states have passed laws permitting private employers to give veterans a preference in employment decisions.2 This recent trend began in Washington, which passed its law in 2011, and has quickly spread across the country over the last five years. Generally speaking, these statutes allow private employers to adopt policies that give preference to military veterans in hiring, promotion, and retention decisions. Many of the statutes clarify that an employer’s decision to exercise the preference should not constitute unlawful discrimination under other existing state employment laws, including fair employment practices laws.
In most instances, the preference policy must be in writing and applied consistently to all decisions. The laws typically describe the veterans covered by the preference and may require them to produce documentation to establish their status. Most states, including New Hampshire, Georgia, Maine, Nevada, Kansas, Alabama, Indiana, Washington, and Rhode Island, specify that veterans qualify if they have been honorably discharged. And many states, such as South Carolina, Virginia, Idaho, North Dakota, Minnesota, Maryland, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Oregon, extend the preference to the spouses of disabled or deceased veterans.
As this trend continues to develop,3 employers may want to consider whether to voluntarily implement a specific policy addressing veterans preference consistent with applicable state law. As with the adoption of most employment policies, employers wishing to do so should consult with counsel, and ensure the policy is uniformly applied.