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When returning to civilian life after time in the military, some veterans face discrimination. But federal laws protect veterans from discrimination in the workplace. Veteran discrimination puts up barriers for former service members to smoothly transition back into society.
We will explore what veteran discrimination is. Plus, how you can spot the signs.
- Discrimination happens when an individual or group experiences different treatment based on their status.
- Veterans can experience discrimination in the workplace. But it’s illegal.
- Understanding what veteran discrimination is can help you avoid putting a veteran in a difficult situation.
- As a veteran, understanding your workplace rights can help you find a good job that utilizes your many skills.
Understanding Veteran Discrimination
Veteran discrimination is a problem that plagues former servicemembers. Of course, this type of discrimination is illegal. But the actions tied to discrimination are often subtle. It’s helpful to dive into the details to avoid a sticky situation.
What Is Veteran Discrimination?
Veteran discrimination, in the workplace, happens when an employer treats a protected veteran unfavorably.
- Veterans can experience discrimination as an employee or as a job applicant.
- Typically, veteran discrimination leads to unfavorable outcomes for the veteran.
Why Are Veterans Discriminated Against?
No one can really say why veterans are discriminated against. It’s impossible to understand why certain employers or coworkers would choose to discriminate against an individual that valiantly served their country. With that, the individual’s reasons for discrimination tend to change on a case-by-case basis.
Are Veterans a Protected Class?
Some veterans are considered a protected class under federal law. As a veteran, you must belong to one of the categories of protected veterans, which is outlined in the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA).
Who Qualifies as a Protected Veteran?
Under VEVRAA, you must fall into one of the following categories to be considered a protected veteran:
- Disabled veteran: This includes veterans who are entitled to disability compensation after active duty. It also includes veterans who were discharged or released from active duty because of a service-connected disability.
- Other protected veterans: Veterans who served on active duty during a war, in a campaign, or expedition that received a campaign badge from the Department of Defense.
- Recently separated veterans: A veteran who separated from active duty in the last three years.
- Armed Forces Service Medal Veteran: Veterans who received an Armed Forces service medal while serving on active duty.
What Laws Govern Veteran Discrimination?
Federal laws protect veterans from discrimination. They include:
- USERRA: The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act protects veterans from discrimination by civilian employers based on current, past, or future military service.
- VEVRAA: The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 protects veterans from discrimination by protected veterans. Plus, this requires federal contractors and subcontractors to use affirmative action to recruit, hire, and promote veterans.
How Do These Laws Protect Veterans?
The laws that protect veterans from discrimination are enforced on several levels.
- Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs: OFCCP enforces the affirmative action protections outlined in VEVRAA.
- Opportunities: With the federal government actively protecting veterans from discrimination, most enjoy better job opportunities.
What Rights Do Veterans Have in the Workplace?
Protected veterans enjoy workplace rights under federal laws. These rights include:
- The right to work in an environment free of discrimination.
- Protected veterans cannot be denied employment, harassed, demoted, terminated, or paid less due to their military experience.
- Veterans with a disability can request ‘reasonable accommodations’ from their employers.
- If you file a claim through OFCCP, your employer cannot punish you for asserting your rights.
Can a Protected Veteran Be Fired?
Like other employees, a protected veteran can be fired. However, the reasons for firing the veteran must be airtight.
- When choosing to fire a veteran, the employer cannot consider the veteran’s protected status.
- Employers and veterans should document the situation. If a veteran consistently violates company policies, that might be grounds for termination.
Are There Laws Protecting Veterans with Service-Connected Disabilities?
Yes, veterans with service-connected disabilities are protected under federal laws.
- To qualify: Veterans must have served on active duty and be entitled to disability compensation or have been discharged from active duty due to a service-connected disability.
- Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: ADA laws also protect Americans with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace.
Veteran Discrimination vs Harassment and Retaliation
Veterans might experience discrimination, harassment, or retaliation in the workplace. Here’s a breakdown of each:
- Discrimination: Employers cannot deny you initial employment, reemployment, retention in employment, a promotion, or any benefit of employment due to your status as a veteran. Employers must treat you fairly.
- Harassment: Harassment is any unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct tied to your service as a veteran.
- Retaliation: If you try to exercise your workplace rights as a veteran, you cannot be retaliated against.
What’s the Difference Between Veteran Discrimination and Harassment?
The line between discrimination and harassment is thin.
- Discrimination: Discrimination happens when an employer denies you initial employment, reemployment, retention in employment, a promotion, or any benefit of employment due to your status as a veteran. In other words, the employer must treat you the same as other employees.
- Harassment: Harassment tends to be a more confrontational issue. It happens when an employer engages in any unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct tied to your service as a veteran.
How is Retaliation Different from Discrimination?
In general, retaliation is an escalation of discrimination.
- Discrimination: Discrimination happens when you are treated unfairly due to your status as a veteran.
- Retaliation: Retaliation happens if your employer takes adverse action against you after you tried to exercise your workplace rights.
Veteran Discrimination Example
Veteran discrimination is illegal. But that doesn’t mean employers won’t try to discriminate. Here are some common examples:
- Hiring: An employer who doesn’t consider your application for a job due to your status as a veteran would be discriminating.
- Unequal pay: If an employer chooses to pay you less than others at your company due to your status as a veteran, that counts as discrimination.
Veteran Harassment Example
Harassment involves unwanted attention in the workplace. Here’s an example:
- Derogatory comments: Negative comments about your military connection would be considered harassment.
Veteran Retaliation Example
Retaliation is an escalated issue. Here’s an example:
- Discrimination: As a protected veteran, you learn that your coworkers are earning more than you. The boss admits this discrepancy was based on your status as a veteran.
- Report: You choose to claim your rights by filing a complaint with the OFCCP.
- Retaliation: If the employer makes your life more difficult at work and refuses to promote you after the complaint, that’s considered retaliation.
How to Protect Yourself Against Job Discrimination as a Veteran
The unfortunate reality is that some veterans will experience retaliation in the workplace. But the good news is that you can protect yourself:
- Know your rights: The first step to protecting yourself is to understand your rights. When you know what your rights are, you can spot if they are violated.
- Stand your ground: If you know an employer is discriminating against you, try to have an honest conversation. It’s possible they aren’t aware that their actions are illegal.
- Ask for help: If you need some backup, file a complaint with the DOL or OFCCP. Either organization should be able to point you in the right direction.
- File a lawsuit: You can work with a lawyer to file a lawsuit about the situation.
What to Do If You’re a Veteran Experiencing Discrimination
Veterans experiencing discrimination should reach out for help. The good news is that the government provides many resources for you.
Which Agency Should I Contact If I’m a Veteran Experiencing Discrimination?
If experiencing discrimination, you can reach out to two different agencies.
- The Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS): VETS offers a pathway to file a complaint and help you resolve the issue with your employer.
- OFCCP: If you are experiencing discrimination from a federal contractor or subcontractor, reach out to the OFCCP for help.
How Do Veterans Experiencing Discrimination File a Complaint?
As a veteran experiencing discrimination, you can file a complaint through the VETS program. The VETS program handles complaints that include USERRA violations. From there, VETS will look into your case. If VETS cannot resolve the issue, you can have the case referred to the Department of Justice for representation.
Who Should I Contact If I Have Questions About Veterans’ Rights?
It’s natural to have questions about your rights as a veteran. You can get more information from the following places:
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
- U.S. Department of Labor
- The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)
Federal laws protect veterans from discrimination in the workplace. If you are experiencing discrimination as a protected veteran, learn more about your rights. You may need to file a claim with the federal government to have your rights enforced.