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Veterans in the Workplace: What the EEOC’s most recent publication means for employers

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has recently released a revised publication addressing the rights of veterans with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What does this mean for employers?

In 2010, there were approximately 22 million veterans in the United States seeking to return to civilian life after serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces – and those numbers are not getting any smaller. Another 1 million veterans are expected to return home in the next five years. Even more alarming, approximately 25 percent of these recent veterans report high rates of service-connected disabilities, which are disabilities that were incurred in, or aggravated during, military service. In light of these staggering numbers, the EEOC has publicly pledged its commitment to ensuring that veterans with disabilities receive the full protection of the laws. Employers need to heed the guidance the EEOC has offered in its recent publication, “Veterans and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): A Guide for Employers.” Failure to do so could result in an expensive and time consuming lesson about what not to do in hiring and retaining employees.  

How does the ADA impact those who employ veterans?

Title I of the ADA prohibits public and private employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability. Thus, an employer cannot treat a veteran applicant or employee unfavorably in any aspect of employment, including hiring, promotions, job assignments, training or termination, because of a disability. For example, an employer is prohibited from refusing to hire a veteran because he or she has post-traumatic stress disorder, because he or she was previously diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or because the employer thinks he or she has post-traumatic stress disorder. An employer is similarly precluded from refusing to hire or promote a veteran based on assumptions about a veteran’s ability to perform a job in light of the fact that the veteran has a disability rating from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

What types of accommodations do employers need to consider under the ADA?

The ADA further requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to veterans with disabilities in order for the veteran to perform his or her job and to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment, so long as it does not impart an undue hardship on the employer. Reasonable accommodations may include hosting recruitment fairs, trainings and interviews in accessible locations; providing written materials in accessible formats, such as large print or Braille; making physical modifications to a workspace, such as adjusting the height of desks or shelves for a person in a wheelchair; and allowing leave for treatment, recuperation or training related to his or her disability. These must be determined on a case by case basis. In addition to these considerations, the EEOC publication provides additional guidance to employers, including whether an employer can ask if an applicant is a “disabled veteran;” whether the law allows employers to give special consideration or preference to veteran applicants; what steps an employer may take to recruit or hire veterans with disabilities; how to find out if a reasonable accommodation is necessary; and other legal considerations imposed on employers by laws other than the ADA.  Prudent employers should check with employment counsel before proceeding in this complex area of the law. Click here to view a complete copy of the EEOC’s revised guide, “Veterans and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): A Guide for Employers.”

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