It is said that a soldier gives you your freedom, and asks nothing in return. On March 7, 2014, the Oregon House and Senate gave a little something back to service members and veterans by passing House Bill 4023, which gives private employers the option of giving service members and veterans and certain veterans' spouses or widows a preference in hiring and promotion decisions. The law is awaiting the Governor's signature, and it will be effective on his signing.

More specifically, the bill permits, but does not require, private, nonpublic employers to give preference in the hiring and promotion of employees to members of the uniformed service, uniformed service veterans, spouses of permanently and totally disabled uniformed service veterans, and widows and widowers of uniformed service veterans. For more information on how Veterans' Preference impacts public employers please see our previous alert.

The limited language in the bill does not provide private employers with any guidance on how to implement the preference, leaving them open to potential discrimination claims from those who were not hired or promoted based on the employer's exercise of the preference. For example, because women represent approximately 20% of new recruits, and make up an even smaller percentage of service members and veterans, the preference is likely to have a disparate impact on women. Because the bill contains neither guidance nor a safe harbor, a private employer could expose itself to discrimination claims from women, minorities, or other protected groups that make up a smaller percentage of service members and veterans.

Best practices for those private employers wanting to exercise the preference once it is signed into law would include developing a hiring and promotion process that quantifies the preference given to service members and veterans, applying that preference consistently to all employees or potential employees, and keeping accurate records of that process, in the event that a person who was not hired or promoted brings a discrimination claim.