Friday, February 29, 2008

Special considerations for employment of veterans with service-connected disabilities

In Ohio, two laws apply to the employment of veterans: the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which provides reemployment rights to returning veterans, and Ohio's ban on military status discrimination, which goes into effect on March 18. If a returning veteran is injured, though, another law might come into play, the ADA. Earlier today the EEOC published guidance for employers on how to handle veterans with service-connected disabilities under the ADA. The following summarizes the EEOC's key points:

How does USERRA differ from the ADA?

USERRA protects the reemployment rights of those who leave their civilian jobs to serve in the uniformed services. The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities with respect to hiring, promotion, termination, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The ADA also prohibits disability-based harassment and provides that, absent undue hardship, applicants and employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodation. USERRA requires employers to go further than the ADA by making reasonable efforts to assist a veteran who is returning to employment in becoming qualified for a job.

Is a veteran with a service-connected disability automatically protected by the ADA?

No. The impairment must meet the statutory definition of a "disability" under the ADA, meaning a person who (i) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (ii) has a record of such an impairment; or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment, and who otherwise meets the employer's requirements for the job and can perform the job's essential functions with or without reasonable accommodation.

May an employer ask if an applicant is a "disabled veteran" if it is seeking to hire someone with a service-connected disability?

Yes, if the employer is asking the applicant voluntarily to self-identify for affirmative action purposes. Otherwise, employers generally may not ask for medical information from applicants prior to making a job offer.

What steps should an employer take if it asks an applicant to self-identify as a "disabled veteran" for affirmative action purposes?

If an employer invites applicants to voluntarily self-identify, the employer must indicate clearly and conspicuously (i) that the information requested is intended for use solely in connection with its affirmative action obligations or its voluntary affirmative action efforts; and (ii) the specific information is being requested on a voluntary basis, it will be kept confidential in accordance with the ADA, that refusal to provide it will not subject the employee to any adverse treatment, and that it will be used only in accordance with the ADA. Any information collected must be kept separate from the application to ensure confidentiality.

May an employer give preference in hiring to a veteran with a service-connected disability over other applicants?

Yes. The ADA prohibits discrimination "against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability." The law neither prohibits nor requires affirmative action on behalf of disabled individuals. Therefore, an employer may, but is not required to, hire a qualified individual with a disability over a qualified applicant without a disability.

What types of reasonable accommodations may veterans with service-connected disabilities need for the application process or during employment?

Some examples of possible reasonable accommodations to consider include: written materials in accessible formats; recruitment fairs, interviews, tests, and training held in accessible locations; modified equipment or devices; physical modifications to the workplace; permission to work from home; leave for treatment, recuperation, or training related to the disability; modified or part-time work schedules; a job coach; reassignment to a vacant position.

How does an employer know when a veteran with a service-connected disability needs an accommodation?

Usually, the reasonable accommodation process begin with a request by the employee or someone else on his or her behalf. The request does not have to mention the ADA or use the term "reasonable accommodation" and simply can be an indication that the employee needs a change for a reason related to a medical condition. A request for reasonable accommodation is the first step in an informal interactive process between the individual and the employer. That process usually involves determining whether the employee actually has a "disability" Employers should also ask what is needed to do the job.

May an employer ask a veteran with a service-connected disability whether a reasonable accommodation is needed if none has been requested?

It depends. During the application process, an employer may explain what the hiring process involves and ask all applicants whether they will need a reasonable accommodation to participate in any part. In addition, if an employer reasonably believes that a veteran with an obvious service-connected disability (such as blindness or a missing limb) who is applying for a particular job will need a reasonable accommodation to do that job, the employer may ask whether an accommodation is needed and, if so, what type. Once a veteran with a service-connected disability has started working, an employer may ask whether an accommodation is needed when it reasonably appears that the person is experiencing workplace problems because of a medical condition.

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