Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects several groups of workers from discrimination in the workplace. According to the law, no one should be refused work, fired, demoted, paid less, or otherwise negatively treated because of their race, religion, sex, age, or disability. AMVETS, a group that supports American veterans, would like to add military personnel to this list.
Stewart Hickey, the executive director of AMVETS, thinks that veterans are discriminated against for a couple different reasons. Those currently serving in the military may be passed over for a job because the company is concerned that they will be called back to active duty, leaving the position to be filled in the interim. And employers may be hesitant to hire veterans who have already served because they are afraid the applicants suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury.
There is legislation in place that makes it illegal for a company to refuse someone employment because he or she is a veteran. It is called the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and it was enacted in 1994. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel summarizes the act as "a federal law intended to ensure that persons who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, Reserves, National Guard or other "uniformed services:" (1) are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service; (2) are promptly reemployed in their civilian jobs upon their return from duty; and (3) are not discriminated against in employment based on past, present, or future military service."
Ironically, the federal government has been accused of disobeying this law by firing service members who have been gone on active duty, and rescinding job offers to those serving who did not return from active duty soon enough. In 2011, over 250 cases of the USERRA being violated were brought against the federal government.
So will adding veterans as a protected class under Title VII help the situation? Mr. Hickey can't say for sure, but his hope is that it will. He thinks that giving veterans the protected class status will at least make employers think extra hard before they turn down a vet for a new job or terminate one from an existing position. Even those who may not knowingly discriminate against veterans now may be more apt to hire a veteran if they become protected by workplace discrimination laws.