Last month, President Obama signed into law an amendment to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). This amendment, the “Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act,” allows USERRA to recognize claims of hostile work environment on account of an individual’s military status, making it easier for employees to sue their employer for discrimination based on their military status.
In addition to increasing educational opportunities, job counseling, and transition and placement assistance available to veterans, this bipartisan legislation creates the same standard for hostile environment claims on account of military status as that are required for Title VII and other employment discrimination claims. Consequently, employers will find it more difficult to end USERRA claims quickly—even where the employee has not suffered a tangible loss.
America’s military is the finest the world has ever known. The women and men of the U.S. armed forces are true heroes, and deserve recognition and respect for the sacrifices they’ve made for this country. So while this blog might not always agree with President Obama’s labor and economic policies, we’re behind the President’s recent decision to amend USERRA. However, as is so often the case with this Administration's policies, the devil’s in the details, and an important question is still to be answered: Will this new law be used to protect members of the U.S. military from anti-military bias? Or will it function as yet another tool to intimidate employers?
Bottom Line for Employers
Given this expansion of USERRA protections, employers should ensure that their EEO policies include “military and veteran status” and that all supervisory personnel are aware of USERRA’s new parameters. Additionally, companies should consider including language prohibiting harassment on the basis of military and/or veteran status in their policies against harassment in the workplace.
-Meredith Diette represents public and private employers before state and federal courts and administrative agencies on a variety of employment-related matters such as claims of discrimination, wrongful discharge, retaliation, sexual harassment, unemployment, and employee discipline.