Veterans Day is a federal holiday in the United States for honoring military veterans, who are people who have served in the United States Armed Forces. On this special day, it is also a time to remember workplace protections for veterans, including those currently serving in the military.

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and its implementing regulations prohibit workplace discrimination and harassment based on actual or perceived protected categories. One of the protected groups under the FEHA is members of the military or military veterans. As such, it is unlawful for employers to discriminate against or harass employees because of their military or veteran status.

But who is a veteran or military member under the FEHA? The answer to this question may seem obvious, however, who qualifies as a veteran or a military member in California may vary depending on the specific law involved. For example, under certain criminal code sections, only those on active-duty status or veteran status qualify. Under the Government Code pertaining to state civil service, “veteran” means those who have served full-time in the armed forces in times of national emergency or state military emergency or during any expedition of the armed forces.

However, the FEHA has a very broad definition of what constitutes “veteran or military status.” Under Government Code section 12926 (k) “veteran or military status” means a member or veteran of the United States Armed Forces, United States Armed Forces Reserve, the United States National Guard, and the California National Guard. There is no active duty, federal, or qualifying service requirement for the robust protection afforded under the FEHA.

Last year, the California legislature further clarified through Assembly Bill (AB) 3364 that the FEHA prohibits discrimination against individuals who either are veterans or because of the individual’s military status, instead of veteran and a certain articulated military status. Employers should keep this broad definition in mind when making decisions that could implicate the FEHA protections.

If you have questions about hiring, employing, and/or terminating past or present military personnel or related issues, contact a Jackson Lewis attorney to discuss.