Veterans have a lot to contribute to the workplace: resilience, teamwork, discipline, and adaptability to name a few. Veterans that meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition of disability (having an impairment or condition that impacts one or more major life activity) are protected under the ADA. Discrimination against veterans who meet this definition of disability is prohibited, and veterans with disabilities in the workplace are eligible for reasonable accommodations.
This resource provides guidance on the multiple laws that may impact veterans with disabilities in the workforce. It also addresses many of the stigmas that veterans with non-apparent disabilities may experience in the workforce and how employers can support job applicants and employees that are returning to civilian life.
What employment laws about veterans with disabilities should you be aware of?
The three main laws that apply to veterans with disabilities are:
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects applicants and employees with disabilities, including veterans, from employment discrimination. Under the ADA, veterans have a right to choose whether to tell an employer about a disability and a right to request a reasonable accommodation.
- The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) applies to veterans, including those with service-connected disabilities, in the workforce. USERRA, like the ADA, requires employers to accommodate returning veterans with service-connected disabilities. Learn about USERRA at The U.S. Department of Labor’s USERRA Advisor.
- The Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) applies to employers who are federal contractors and protects several categories of veterans (not just Vietnam era veterans), including those with service-connected disabilities. Recently, VEVRAA has been strengthened with new rules, which took effect in 2014. These new rules include new accountabilities for federal contractors around hiring and accommodating veterans with service-connected disabilities. Learn more by reading the VEVRAA Fact Sheet developed by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Can an employer ask applicants or employees who are veterans if they have a disability?
That depends. The ADA and VEVRAA each address this issue in a different way. Under the ADA, employers generally cannot ask veteran applicants or employees about a disability, unless the employer has been made aware of the disability or an accommodation need. However, under the VEVRAA 2014 rule changes, employers who are federal contractors must collect data about the number of applicants and employees who are veterans with service-connected disabilities. To do this, these employers use a voluntary self-identification form to collect this information. This information is confidential, must be stored separately from other personnel records, and cannot be used for decisions such as hiring or promotion. Note that ADA disability disclosure protections are not in conflict with the self-identification requirements of the VEVRAA new rules. To find out more, go see the VEVRAA FAQ.
Veterans and non-apparent disabilities:
- A veteran’s disability is not always apparent. About 30% of veterans returning from recent engagements have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and/or depression.
- Question automatic assumptions. Too often, PTSD is misperceived as a “character flaw” or a risk for workplace violence. PTSD is not a character flaw or the result of a weak personality. Also, PTSD is not limited to veterans. Despite the newspaper headlines, the vast majority of people with PTSD do not pose a danger to others in the workplace.
- The disability may still be unfolding. When returning to the civilian workplace, veterans may still be coming to terms with these disabilities and may not yet have been diagnosed or treated. Conditions such as PTSD and TBI can have delayed symptoms. As part of coming to terms with and understanding their disabilities, returning veterans should be made aware of accommodations, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), and other resources that may be available to them as they make the transition to civilian work.
- The disability may continue to change over time. PTSD and TBI are conditions that tend to change over time. This means that responsive and flexible accommodations may be necessary.
- Symptoms vary from person to person. People with the same diagnosis can have very different symptoms and needs. Employers should avoid a “one size fits all” approach to accommodating veterans with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations should be determined on a case-by-case basis through an interactive discussion between an employee and their employer.
- Start by listening to the veterans. Effective accommodations always start by listening to the veteran. How does the disability affect the job? Which job functions are impacted? What might help the person be effective? Consider the full range of accommodations that might work. A few examples are working from home, modifying the employee’s schedule, providing time off to attend treatment, changing the work environment, providing white noise headphones, or offering more reminders of work tasks. Work-leave and job transfer, though sometimes necessary, should be considered accommodations of last resort. For more information, go to the Job Accommodation Network’s page on Accommodation and Compliance: Veterans and Service Members.
Can a veteran with a disability get a reasonable accommodation at work?
Yes. Just like any other employee or applicant with a disability, a veteran with a disability has the right to a reasonable accommodation, both during the application process and during employment. An employer might decide to get more medical information about an employee’s condition in order to understand their accommodation need. All of this information must be kept confidential and separate from an employee’s normal employment records. It is always wise to review the process of requesting an accommodation in advance.
- Are you reentering the workforce after returning to civilian life? Start with our fact sheet here: You Have a Lot to Offer: Ten Points for Veterans to Consider When Returning to Work with a Disability.
- Are you a family member of a veteran with a disability? We have a fact sheet with Ten Tips for Families: Supporting a Veteran with a Disability Returning to Work.
- Want to support your employees? Check out these Ten Tips for Employers: Tapping into the Talents of Veterans with Disabilities.
- Get the facts by reviewing Employment Data for Veterans with Disabilities.