Fisher Phillips Reminds Employers of Their Duties to Our Servicemen and Women this Veterans Day
Nearly One Million Veterans in Texas Civilian Labor Force
Veterans Day holds significant importance in Texas, as it leads the nation in employing military veterans with an estimated 926,000 veterans work in civilian jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Texas tops the second leading state, California, by more than 85,000.
“Despite veterans making up nearly 10 percent of the state’s workforce, many private employers may not know their legal duties to our vets,” said Art Lambert, partner in the Dallas office of Fisher Phillips, a national labor and employment law firm. “Employers should be prepared to accommodate former soldiers who may have disabilities, as well as reinstate employees who leave the company to serve in the Armed Forces and then return after being honorably discharged.”
Accommodate Wounded Warriors
The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified applicants or employees with disabilities. Additionally, it requires employers to reasonably accommodate disabilities if they would enable employees to perform essential job functions. This includes mental impairments, just as it would a veteran with a prosthetic limb or who is hard of hearing.
According to Lambert, companies are seeing an uptick in accommodation requests from veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which commonly includes ways to avoid loud noises and the allowance of comfort animals. The ADAAA requires accommodation determinations to be made on a case-by-case basis and granted whenever possible.
Reinstate Returning Veterans
In addition to accommodating disabilities, employers have a legal obligation to employees who take a leave of absence from work to serve their country. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) requires civilian employers reemploy veterans who left for training or to serve in the armed forces once they have completed their service. The USERRA is designed to provide servicemen and women with job security when they return to civilian life.
To qualify for reinstatement, honorably discharged employees simply need to submit a timely application, which typically varies from 14 to 90 days prior to returning to work. Employers must promptly reinstate veterans to the positions they would have held if they had never taken military leave, which may include pay increases or promotions upon return. Additionally, employers must provide a refresher or other trainings that would have been furnished if not for the leave.
Not only is reinstatement required, but employers cannot terminate returning veterans without cause. Despite Texas’ status as an employment at-will state, veterans can only be terminated "for cause" during a period of six to 12 months after reinstatement. Lastly, employers cannot discriminate on the basis of military service or retaliate against employees for asserting these rights.
“Though most employers have honorable intentions, it is a delicate and complex balance between managing business demands and fulfilling their commitment to our brave servicemen and women,” said Lambert. “The legal regulations affecting employees with veteran status are constantly being modified. It is important employers are up to speed on current state laws to ensure battles take place in the field and not in the courtroom.”