As of mid-2012, more than 1.6 million veterans had returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Veteran unemployment rates regularly track at more than twice the national average. Economic incentives to hire these returning service members include the Returning Heroes Tax Credit (which offers businesses a maximum tax credit of $5,600 per veteran hired) and the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit (which offers businesses that hire veterans with service disabilities a maximum tax credit of $9,600 per veteran). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a special initiative, “Hiring our Heroes”; the White House has obtained commitments from many of the largest U.S. employers to hire and accommodate returning veterans and their families, and several large job search companies have pledged to offer special assistance to veterans and military spouses with job matching services. This column is meant to address some of the most common workplace issues of which employers should be mindful in the context of hiring and employing returning service members. Failure to abide by these guidelines can expose employers to fines, penalties and civil litigation, as well as bad publicity arising from allegations of improper workplace practices concerning veterans.
Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination based on military service. Returning veterans often are perceived as, and may indeed have, different education and experience than those of other applicants or employees in the same positions. Many return from service with fewer years of traditional education than those they are competing against in a tight economy. Employers may incorrectly assume that long periods of military service translate into a lack of private sector skills and experience, including a perceived inability to adjust to corporate culture. If these perceptions color hiring decisions, employers will be exposed to potential discrimination suits.