Did you know that there are approximately 8.5 million veterans in the U.S. workforce?
Since 1919, when it was known as “Armistice Day,” America has been honoring its veterans on November 11. Because November 11 falls on a Saturday this year, many government services will not be provided, and some private businesses may be closed, on Friday, November 10, in observance of the holiday.
Even if your business does not close or otherwise formally observe Veterans Day, one thing you can do is learn about the federal and state laws in place that protect the rights of veterans and service members in the workplace.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)
A multi-faceted federal law, USERRA applies to employers of all sizes and covers employees serving, or who have served, in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and their respective Reserves, as well as the National Guard.
- prohibits employers from engaging in employment discrimination against any person on the basis of their past, present, or future military service;
- requires that employers treat employees who are absent due to military service as if they are on a leave of absence. In other words, employers must provide those employees with the same non-seniority rights and benefits as those on a non-military leave of absence; and
- entitles those on military leave to prompt reemployment upon their return.
Typically, a service member-employee’s reemployment must be to a position that the employee would have attained but for their absence for military service. Importantly, the returning employee must be qualified for that position, as well as satisfy multiple other conditions.
State Law Protections for Service Members
Similar to USERRA, Wisconsin’s Fair Employment Act (WFEA) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of one’s military status, which includes service in both federal and state armed forces. Wisconsin law also requires private employers to restore those called up to federal and state service, if they are qualified, to the position the employee would have been in had the employee not left for such service.
Disabled Veterans and Your Workforce
It’s not uncommon for those returning from military service to have sustained physical injuries, as well as mental trauma and hardship, each of which may constitute a disability. Under USERRA and its state law counterpart, employers must make reasonable efforts to accommodate a disabled service member-employee if the employee incurred or aggravated a disability during their service, so that the employee can return to the position they would have otherwise attained. Notably, these laws require employers to take the additional step of helping the employee become qualified for that position. If, however, after taking the above-described measures, the employee is not, or cannot become, qualified for that particular position, the employer must work with the employee to reemploy them to another position, subject to additional legal requirements.
While USERRA and Wisconsin’s military leave law address an employer’s obligations to those called to and returning from military leave, employers should also be mindful of their obligations toward veteran applicants and employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the WFEA. Wisconsin employers of all sizes are covered by the WFEA, and employers with at least 15 employees are covered by the ADA. Importantly, both the ADA and WFEA (1) prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of a veteran employee’s or applicant’s disability and (2) require that employers provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified veteran employee or applicant.
Note that this post provides only a high-level overview of some laws affecting private employers with respect to service member employees and applicants. Further, there are additional laws with respect to veterans that apply to public employers and federal contractors.
If you have any questions or would like additional information about these laws and ways you can support the service members and veterans in your workplace, please contact a member of our Labor, Employment and Immigration team.
 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey: 48. Employment status of persons 18 years and over by veteran status, age, and sex, available at https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat48.htm (last visited Nov. 9, 2023).