Federal and state lawmakers have turned their attention recently to employment-related issues for service members and veterans.
Legislators in both the House and Senate introduced the Veterans and Service Members Employment Rights and Housing Act, a bill that would add veterans to the list of protected categories under the federal Civil Rights Act. “If you fight for our country, you shouldn’t have to fight for a job when you come home,” Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), who sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives, said in a statement.
Under the law, employers would be prohibited from discriminating against job applicants or existing employees based on their military status, and employees could file charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against employers.
Specifically, the bill would make it unlawful for an employer “(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to the individual’s compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s military service; or (2) to limit, segregate, or classify the employer’s employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect the individual’s status as an employee, because of such individual’s military service.”
The Title VII amendment would complement and add to the protections offered by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA. The bill would also update the Fair Housing Act to protect veterans and service members.
The proposed law would apply to both public and private employers and would allow claims based on intentional discrimination and disparate impact. Causation for an intentional discrimination claim would require a plaintiff only to establish military service as a “motivating factor” and not the “but for” cause of an adverse action.
In the states, new legislation will soon take effect in Louisiana and Maryland impacting employers and service members.
Effective August 1, employers in Louisiana will be prohibited from “discharging, disciplining, or otherwise discriminating” against veterans who take time off from work related to medical appointments necessary to obtain veterans’ benefits. Employers may require verification by the medical provider from the employee (like a bill or receipt); the law also includes a private right of action for veterans alleging a violation.
In Maryland, a law is set to take effect on October 1 that requires that employers provide one day of unpaid leave for employees to be used on the day an “immediate family member” leaves or returns from active military duty outside the country. An “immediate family member” is defined as a spouse (including a same-sex spouse), parent, stepparent, child, stepchild, or sibling.
Employees must have worked at least 1,250 hours for the employer over the preceding 12 months to be eligible for the leave. The law is also limited to employers with 50 or more employees. Documentation may be requested to support the leave, but employers cannot require employees to use paid leave for this reason (although if covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, the employer could designate the leave under the relevant provisions).
Why it matters: According to studies cited by the federal legislators in support of their bill, employers may view veterans or active service members as a liability to the workforce, concerned about an individual’s lack of on-the-job experience, transition into civilian life, or being called back to active duty. Given the focus on both the state and federal levels, employers should be cognizant of the relevant law in their jurisdiction regarding service members and veterans.