U.S. combat operations in Iraq ended in December. The Department of Defense is gradually drawing down forces in Afghanistan. Employees who had been deployed as members of the military reserves or National Guard will be coming back to their jobs, and other former service people will be looking for work.
Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director of Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, calls the new flood of returning service members “the surge home.”
THE LAW: Employers with employees who are returning from military service must comply with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).
Returning reservist’s rights vary according to how long they were deployed.
Those deployed fewer than 31 days must report to work for their first regularly scheduled work period following the last calendar day of duty. Employers must allow employees to return home safely from the deployment and rest for eight hours before working.
Employees deployed between 31 and 180 days must apply for reemployment within 14 days of the end of their service. The application period is extended to 90 days for employees deployed more than 180 days, but less than five years.
Employees who return with a service-connected injury or illness may get an extension of up to two years to reapply for time spent hospitalized or convalescing.
WHAT’S NEW: The unemployment rate for young veterans (age 18 to 24) returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is double that of their civilian peers. Unemployment rates are even higher for female veterans. Some have suggested that service members have a hard time translating their service-acquired skills into civilian job qualifications.
To ease the transition, Congress passed the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. The law offers vets the chance to participate in a Transition Assistance Program (TAP), which provides employment training and teaches job-search skills. The act offers additional training to veterans interested in entering high-demand job sectors.
The law offers tax credits to employers that hire veterans. Hiring a veteran who has been out of work for four weeks, but less than six months qualifies an employer for a $2,400 tax credit. Hiring vets who have been out of work six months or longer nets a $5,600 credit. If the veteran has a service-related disability and has been out of work for at least six months, the employer is entitled to up to $9,600 in tax credits.
Nonprofits may receive the tax credits as an offset of payroll taxes.
The bill also amends USERRA to allow hostile work environment lawsuits. Until now, courts had been reluctant to allow those suits.
HOW TO COMPLY: If you are rehiring employees returning from military service, you must follow USERRA guidelines. Employees must be returned to their former job if possible. If the worker missed training during his or her deployment, you should offer that training to allow the service member to catch up and resume his or her career path as much as possible.
USERRA is a complex law. Consult your attorney if you have questions regarding specific situations.
Because so many service members are returning to the workforce, you’re likely to see a higher number of veterans applying for work. The U.S. Department of Labor has developed an employer toolkit for hiring veterans, available for free download at www.americasheroesatwork.gov.
The toolkit emphasizes six steps:
- Design a strategy for your veterans hiring program.
- Create a welcoming and educated workplace for veterans.
- Actively recruit veterans, wounded warriors and military spouses.
- Hire qualified veterans and learn how to accommodate wounded warriors.
- Promote an inclusive workplace to retain your veteran employees.
- Keep helpful tools and resources available.
You need not adopt every aspect of the toolkit, but employers that show a willingness to recruit and retain veterans run a far lower risk of a hostile work environment USERRA lawsuit.
If you wish to recruit veterans, start by identifying specific military skills that would fit your open positions.
Veterans are generally well-disciplined, know how to give and follow orders and react to quickly changing situations. Those intangibles are valuable commodities, but you may often overlook them when envisioning your “ideal” candidate for specific jobs. Keep an open mind—consider that there may be many ways to do a job well.
Many returning veterans are heading straight from the battlefield to college and trade schools. Those may be fertile grounds for recruiting part-time workers.
New discrimination risk
The USERRA amendment that allows hostile work environment lawsuits should be a wake-up call for employers.
Immediately amend your nondiscrimination policies to include military status. Then train your managers to view military-status discrimination the same way they do bias based on race, gender, disability and national origin.