While individuals who serve in the military often make great sacrifices for their country, many people do not seem to understand or appreciate their service. Oftentimes, veterans struggle to readjust to civilian life, which is only made harder by being discriminated against in the employment sphere. Fortunately, the law is on your side if you are a veteran returning to civilian employment life. In California, veteran status is a protected class under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and consequently, veterans are afforded the same anti-discrimination protections afforded to people who may suffer from discrimination based on their race or color, sex or sexual orientation, national origin, or age, among other characteristics. For employers, this means being attentive to potential discrimination red flags in the workplace. For veteran employees, understanding your rights is the key to being able to defend them. For those who find the following examples familiar and believe an employer to have discriminated against you, contact an employment attorney to discuss your options.
- Refusal to hire based on actual or perceived military status or affiliation
Under FEHA, an employer cannot refuse to hire someone due to belief or knowledge that the person is a veteran or member of the military, or even that the person is associated with a veteran or member of the military. Personal biases do, however, make their appearance when it comes to some employers, and that can lead to an otherwise qualified veteran being unemployed. Beyond the moral implications of that kind of behavior, it is important to think about the legal ramifications. Employers can get into a lot of trouble for refusing to hire veterans, as they should. However, sometimes it can be difficult to prove discrimination in hiring. Moreover, sometimes people do not even realize they are being discriminated against. Let’s take a look at an example to get a sense of what a discrimination case of this nature might look like:
Pedro was just honorably discharged from the military and is now looking for a job in the San Francisco area. One job he applies to invites him for an interview. During this interview, he feels everything is going well for a while and his interviewer, Darla, even tells him he seems like a great fit for their workplace. However, when Pedro mentions something about being in the Middle East, his interviewer is curious about what brought him over there. Pedro tells her he was deployed there. When he says this, Darla seems surprised. Soon, they finish the interview. Afterward, Darla reports to the manager about the applicants they have had, and she insists she likes Pedro best, noting that he was a veteran. The manager, Louis, tells her not to hire him because “those military guys can be a real handful,” and he alludes to problems like PTSD that many veterans face.
Here, Darla could report her manager for discriminating against Pedro based on his veteran status. She might be too scared to report Louis, but reporting criminal violations is a legally protected act and it is illegal for Louis to retaliate against her for doing so. If Pedro suspected anything, he could also sue Louis, but it is difficult for him to know that he is not being hired because he served in the military. From his perspective, it could be any number of things. He did not hear what went on behind closed doors. Unfortunately, sometimes that does happen. Ambiguity in discrimination cases is jumped on by defendants but even circumstantial evidence can be very helpful for the victims to use against them.
- Denial of accrued benefits like vacation time
Employers must treat employees in similar positions the same when it comes to compensation or terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. They cannot treat employees differently in these ways based on veteran status. An example illustrates how an employer might discriminate in this way:
Leah recently returned to civilian life after serving as a medical doctor in the military. She plans to return to work in the hospital she was employed in before her service. She reapplies promptly and is rehired because she is protected under federal law for reemployment. A few months after returning to this job, Leah’s significant other proposes to her and she accepts. They decide to plan for a simple wedding at home and a honeymoon in Hawaii. When Leah requests to use the vacation time that she accrued with the hospital over the four years she served, her boss tells her she cannot take time off work “again” until after she has been back for longer. Leah does not know that the law requires her to have the same vacation time she would have had if she had not served in the military and had continuously been employed by her civilian employer. Hence, she accepts her employer’s statement and tries not to be disappointed that she cannot enjoy her honeymoon anytime soon. Later, Leah learns that she is accumulating vacation days at a slower rate than her colleagues in similar positions. These colleagues are not members of the military or veterans. When Leah inquires about this, she is told that she already has more benefits than her colleague’s thanks to her veteran status so she should not worry about it.
In this scenario, Leah’s employer appears to be doing multiple things wrong. Federally, if Leah qualified for reemployment, then she also qualifies for her benefits to having accrued as if she had not gone on military leave. Her employer should not be denying her vacation time that she accrued during her service. Second, her rate of accrual of vacation leave should not differ from her colleagues just because she receives veteran benefits. Providing unequal privileges or terms of employment to an employee based solely on their veteran status is considered unlawful discrimination, and Leah’s employer could get into trouble if Leah hires a wrongful termination lawyer and filed a lawsuit for discrimination.
Veterans have enough challenges to face without needing to suffer discrimination at the hands of prejudiced employers. If you have been discriminated against because of your military service, know that you are not alone. An experienced employment attorney can stand with you and help you fight back against your transgressor.