On February 28, 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released two publications addressing the rights of military veterans with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as part of its efforts to aid such veterans in the transition back into civilian employment. According to government statistics, three million veterans have returned from military service over the past 10 years, and another 1 million veterans are expected to return to civilian life over the next five years. The EEOC’s revised “guide for employers” explains how legal protections for veterans with disabilities compare between the ADA and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (the USERRA) and how employers can prevent disability discrimination and provide reasonable accommodation for returning veterans. The guide includes information on organizations that can help employers to find qualified veterans for jobs, and aid in developing accommodations for veterans’ medical and psychological impairments.
The USERRA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees (or applicants) for employment on the basis of their military status or military obligations. It also protects reemployment rights for those employees who leave their civilian jobs to serve in the uniformed services, including service in the U.S. Reserve forces and National Guards, and attempt to return after completing that service. In addition, under the USERRA, employers must make "reasonable efforts" – including training and re-training - to help each returning veteran to become qualified to perform his or her employment duties. The USERRA applies to all veterans, not just those with service-connected disabilities, and to all employers regardless of size. Reemployment rights of returning veterans are spelled out on the Department of Labor’s website at www.dol.gov/vets. The EEOC’s recently released “guide for wounded veterans” answers questions regarding veterans with service-related disabilities and their legal rights when seeking to enter or re-enter the civilian labor force.
The EEOC’s publications update guides that originally were published in February 2008, prior to the amendments to the ADA which took place in January 2009 (the ADAAA), and reflect changes stemming from those amendments. The ADAAA makes it easier for veterans with a range of impairments - specifically including traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder - to obtain the reasonable accommodations that will allow them to return to work or successfully apply for work. In addition to efforts by governmental agencies like the EEOC, returning veterans with impairments are being aided by non-profits, including the Wounded Warrior Project, www.woundedwarriorproject.org, which work to raise public awareness to the needs of injured service members.
According to Jay Glunt, shareholder in the Pittsburgh Office of Ogletree Deakins, the recent EEOC publications indicate a focus by the Commission on employers’ efforts to meet the unique needs of veterans with disabilities in making the transition back to civilian work-life. Glunt recommends that employers develop and ensure training for both human resource personnel and company managers in identifying, addressing, and implementing reasonable accommodations for those unique needs, thereby assuring compliance with both the USERRA and the ADAAA while doing the right thing for individuals who have given their own efforts in military service.