Understanding the laws surrounding protected classes is vital for any human resources department (or any organization, for that matter). However, one of the least talked about is what it means to be a 'protected veteran.'
In this brief guide, we'll go over what a protected veteran is and what laws and regulations organizations are on the books to protect individuals who are labled as such. As always, we are not lawyers and nothing in this post constitutes legal advice. Always make sure you work closely with your legal team when matters surrounding protected classes come up at your organization to ensure you are following all local, state, and federal laws.
With that said, let's look at a high level view of what a protected veteran is, what laws surround them, and things of that nature.
Protected Veteran: A Brief History
In order to understand what a protected veteran is, you need to go back to 1974 when The Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Act (VEVRAA) was enacted into law.
For matters like these, it's always good to go the source: the US Department of Labor (DOL), specifically the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).
"The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) enforces the affirmative action provisions of the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974," the DOL states.
"This law, sometimes referred to as VEVRAA, requires employers doing business with the Federal Government to take steps to recruit, hire and promote protected veterans. It also makes it illegal for these companies to discriminate against protected veterans when making employment decisions on hiring, firing, pay, benefits, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, and other employment related activities."
In other words, VEVRAA established what a protected veteran is (which we'll get into in a moment), who will enforce the laws, and what the law mandates. The act makes it illegal to discriminate based on protected veteran status in much of the same way it is illegal to discriminate against other protected classes. In this case, though, the law primarily applies to companies working with the federal government on a contract basis.
This is pretty standard compared to other job-related regulations that state that employers cannot be influenced by the protected classes difference. In this case, their protected veteran status.
So What Is a Protect Veteran?
The DOL explains that there are multiple criteria for a person to gain protected veteran status.
Really, the classification is based on four different areas: disabled veterans, recently separated veterans, armed forces service medal veterans, and other (having to do with 'campaign badges'). Let's take a deeper look (all of these definitions come straight from the DOL):
- Disabled Veteran
- "A veteran who served on active duty in the U.S. military and is entitled to disability compensation (or who but for the receipt of military retired pay would be entitled to disability compensation) under laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, or was discharged or released from active duty because of a service-connected disability."
- Recently Separated Veteran
- "A veteran separated during the three-year period beginning on the date of the veteran’s discharge or release from active duty in the U.S. military."
- Armed Forces Service Medal Veteran
- "A veteran who, while serving on active duty in the U.S. military, participated in a U.S. military operation that received an Armed Forces service medal."
- Other Protected Veteran
- "A veteran who served on active duty in the U.S. military during a war, or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge was authorized under the laws administered by the Department of Defense."
As you can see, protected veteran status depends on a bunch of different things. The good news is that most of them are easier to understand compared with the definition of other protected workers or even the WARN Act regulations.
However, working with your legal team is a must here. This is a very high level overview and doesn't get into the variables or details of the act.
What Does Being a Protected Veteran Entail?
First off, it's important to know what organizations have to comply with VEVRAA. The DOL states that employers working with the federal government have to comply fully with the regulations by offering jobs, accommodations, and other things to protected veterans. It also protects veterans from discrimination at these companies as well.
"OFCCP protects the rights of employees and job applicants of companies doing business with the Federal Government," the DOL states.
"This includes employees at banks, information technology firms, meat packing plants, retail stores, manufacturing plants, accounting firms, and construction companies, among others."
In short, if you were a protected veteran, it would ensure that you are protected from discrimination based on your military service. Also, if you suffered a disability during your service, reasonable accommodations would be made to allow you to continue working.
"A 'reasonable accommodation' is an adjustment or change made to the workplace, or the usual way of performing a job, that allows a disabled veteran to perform the duties of the job or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment," the DOL reports.
"A reasonable accommodation does not change essential job functions. An employer also must make a reasonable accommodation that would allow a disabled veteran seeking a job to be able to apply for the job."
Here are some examples of reasonable accommodation as outlined by the DOL:
- Accessible print formats (large print, Braille, audiotape, etc.)
- Modified work schedules
- Sign language interpretation
- Holding meetings and things of that nature in accessible areas
- Ability to change work environments to be more accessible (such as offices and other environments)
This is by no means a complete list. However, it gives you a better understanding of what a 'reasonable accommodation' is and how, at it's core, it's flexible.
Protected Veteran Status: Filing a Complaint
The final area we'll cover in our overview is how a person with protected veteran status can file a complaint if they feel they are being discriminated against or if their employer refuses to make accommodations based off of the DOL guidelines.
Filing a complaint isn't all that difficult. It involves the individual filling out a form and sending it to the OFCCP. We will not go over the entire filing process, but you find out more here.
The most important thing to remember is that employers cannot retaliate against protected veterans if they file a complaint.
"It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for filing a complaint or participating in an investigation. OFCCP’s regulations protect you from harassment, intimidation, threats, coercion, or retaliation for asserting your rights," explains the OFCCP.
If the OFCCP does find that discrimination has taken place, a bunch of different things can happen for the protected veteran. The exact result is different from case to case.
"You may be entitled to a remedy that places you in the position you would have been in if the discrimination had never happened. You may be entitled to be hired, promoted, reinstated, or reassigned. You may also be entitled to back pay, front pay, a pay raise, or some combination of these remedies," the OFCCP states.
As for the company that has been found using discriminatory practices, they will be disbarred from receiving any more federal contracts in the future. The DOL can also terminate current contracts and things of that nature.
Protected Veteran Status: A Brief Recap
A protected veteran is someone who has served in the military and falls into one of the four typical protected veteran categories that are outlined above.
Protected veteran status was established under the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Act (VEVRAA) in 1974. It protects veterans from discrimination based on their military service.
The act specifically protects workers working for federal contractors and other companies that do business with the US government.
As a protected veteran, workers are able to request reasonable accommodation to perform their job duties and other things.
If an organization if found to be discriminating against a protected veteran, they will likely be disbarred from receiving federal contracts in the future and may have their current contracts terminated.
In the end, protected veteran status works like many other anti-discrimination laws that help ensure a fair and balanced workplace for all.
As always, if you have further questions about protected veterans or any other protected class, check in with your lawyer to ensure your business is following all local, state, and federal laws. Nothing in this article constitutes as legal advice. We are not lawyers.