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The Ugly Truth About Workplace Discrimination Against Veterans

Posted by Kira Fonteneau | Jun 17, 2018 | 0 Comments

It may seem unthinkable that an employer would single out a veteran or service member for discrimination at work, but it happens quite a lot. Whether it is a general misunderstanding about the military, an outright negativity toward those who serve, or more subtle discrimination, such as a desire to avoid prolonged absences for deployments or other obligations, there are employers who actually try to avoid hiring veterans and service members. For some, it is an irrational fear that veterans will not be stable mentally or successful in terms of career productivity.

The ugly truth about veteran discrimination is that it can be easy to spot, yet hard to prove. Fortunately, employment discrimination lawyers may be able to help in some situations.

Common Reasons for Employers Discriminating Against Veterans

While there are sadly those who may just have a pure disdain for the military, the vast majority of veteran discrimination cases are not so obvious. Here are some of the most common types of unlawful discrimination against veterans and military service members:

Ignoring Veterans' Preference Laws

Under Alabama law, all private employers are “authorized” to create and follow a veterans' preference hiring policy. This means that private employers are allowed to apply a preference in favor of veterans, but they are not required to do so. Public employers, however, are required to give veterans extra points in the hiring process. Section 36-26-15(b) of the Alabama Code even extends these rights to wives of some severely disabled or deceased veterans. Federal law also requires special hiring authorities for some veterans.

 

Refusing to Hire or Retain Reservists and Guard Members

Those currently serving in the Reserves or Guard have additional protections under both Alabama law and federal law. You are entitled to a leave of absence, but there are several key rules that apply to also protect employers in the event of an extended long-term deployment. Some employers choose to unlawfully discriminate in hiring to “avoid the trouble.” Some employers will also try to convince reservists to quit when they are activated, sometimes finding creative ways to force the employee to leave employment, rather than keeping the job open.

 

Presumption of PTSD or Mental Health Problems

USA Today reports that many employers have unfair, biased views of veterans, assuming that they all suffer from mental health issues or that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will cause them to be a liability in the workforce. While this stereotyping may be completely offensive, it does happen. Veterans should be mindful of warning signs of discrimination in the workplace.

 

Presumption of Physical Disability

Since many veterans returning from combat service may have suffered physical injuries during their service, some employers may come to the generalized conclusion that “most” or “all” veterans are broken (mentally or physically). Rather than seeing veterans as resilient, highly-skilled, and dedicated employees who add value, these employers may see veterans as a liability risk or more likely to file a claim for injuries. All are unsupported by evidence. Of course, that's the nature of discrimination – it is an employment practice that focuses on factors that have nothing to do with ability or skill.

Veteran Discrimination in Your Workplace?

If you are a veteran who is suffering discrimination because of your status as a veteran, you may have options. Do not let someone trample on your rights. You have worked hard to build your career, and you deserve to continue building on your hard work. Contact the attorneys of Fonteneau & Arnold, LLC. With over 20 years of combined experience representing employees in labor and discrimination disputes, we understand what it takes to fight discrimination. Do not just worry about your situation; call us to get real advice today.

Am I Exempt From Time and a Half?

There are a lot of different ways that an employer can pay an employee. Some workers receive a weekly paycheck, some are paid by the hour, and others have a set annual salary, which is broken into bi-weekly payments. The variations are pretty much unlimited. However, federal law still requires that workers be properly compensated for the time they work, regardless of how they are paid. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers are required to pay minimum wage and overtime pay for their employees. Not all employers or employees are eligible for these protections.

What is Time and a Half?

Time and a half is often misunderstood, but it is pretty simple. Your employer is supposed to pay overtime for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours within any seven-day period. It does not matter if work is at night, on the weekend, or you work a holiday. Just count any seven-day period, and if your hours exceeded 40, there should be overtime pay for the excess hours. Obviously, there are plenty of exceptions and nuances to this, but that is the general rule. Overtime should be paid at 1.5 times your regular wage.

Is My Employer Exempt?

As a federal law, FLSA applies to employers who engage in interstate commerce with at least $500,000 in annual business. Interstate commerce is a tricky concept. In general, interstate commerce means making things that will ultimately be sold across state lines, performing services across state lines, buying or selling things in different states, handling or transporting things across state lines, working on things in other states, or any other kind of work that implicates more than one state.

Big corporations are usually obvious examples, but even a small employer who sells items online could be covered by the law, provided the $500,000 limit is met.

My Employer Does Not Meet the $500,000 Limit or do Anything Out of State

Even if your employer does not meet the monetary threshold or obviously participate in interstate commerce, FLSA specifically covers the following:

  • Hospitals (private or public)
  • Nursing Homes (or any type of facility that serves the aged, sick, or disabled)
  • PK-12 Schools
  • Colleges and Universities
  • Federal/State/Local Government

The following household employees might be covered if they work at least eight hours per week and earn more than a predetermined annual threshold of income from a single employer:

  • Housekeepers
  • Cooks
  • Gardeners
  • Home Health Aides
  • Nurses

An individual employee who works in interstate commerce for a designated period of time may still be covered, even if the employer generally does not.

Is My Profession or Job Title Exempt?

This is one of the more common ways employers try to avoid paying overtime – they ‘classify' workers as being one of the following job types. These are all exempt from the overtime protections of FLSA Overtime Protection, just to mention a few:

  • Executives
  • Administrative
  • Professionals
  • Teachers
  • Lawyers
  • Most Sales Employees
  • IT / Skilled Computer Tech Jobs
  • Fishermen
  • Most Small Farm Workers (less than 500 workers)
  • Casual Babysitters
  • Most Commissioned Retail Workers
  • Many More

My Employer Says I am Exempt, but I Disagree

Many employers will give a blue collar worker an ‘administrative' title like Operations Manager or Office Manager, even though the person's primary job duties are heavy labor or non-exempt types of work. This is done so the employer can classify the worker as a professional or administrative exemption in order to avoid paying overtime. Other employers might say that because they pay a salary, rather than hourly wage, this exempts the employee. This is untrue. The Department of Labor provides great resources for you to review.

If you believe your wage rights are being violated, call us. One call could save you thousands in lost wages, so do not keep wondering. Talk to an attorney who can help you understand and fight for your rights today.

About the Author

Kira Fonteneau

Partner and Managing Attorney of the Alabama Trial Practice Group at Barrett & Farahany Kira Fonteneau is a partner and the managing attorney of the Alabama trial group of Barrett & Farahany. Kira chose to specialize in employment law because she wanted to help employees take back power. ...

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