Veterans, Employers, and Service-connected Disabilities
Author: Wendy Taormina-Weiss
Published: 2011-12-10 : (Rev. 2014-03-15)
Synopsis and Key Points:
Examines veterans with service connected injuries or disabilities and questions related to employers Americans with Disabilities Act reasonable accommodations and the processes involved.
Main DigestOne of the questions veterans with disabilities may have is whether or not an employer can hire someone else over them because of the service-connected disability they experience.
A person who has had long service or experience in a particular occupation or field. A person who has served or is serving in the armed forces, and has direct exposure to acts of military conflict, commonly known as war veterans (although not all military conflicts, or areas in which armed combat takes place, are necessarily referred to as "wars").
Veterans with service-connected injuries or disabilities many times have questions related to employers they desire to approach. Veterans with disabilities may have questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), reasonable accommodations and the processes involved with them, the things employers can and cannot ask or do, and where they can find more information. Returning to civilian life is challenging enough; finding employment as a veteran with disabilities deserves some answers and assistance.
One of the questions veterans with disabilities may have is whether or not an employer can hire someone else over them because of the service-connected disability they experience. The simple answer is that in the majority of cases employers cannot. The ADA protects veterans in this regard, prohibiting discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities due to the disabilities they have. What this means is if a person is qualified for the job, an employer can't refuse to hire you simply because you have a service-connected disability, or because you might need a reasonable accommodation to do your job.
A person is considered to be qualified under the ADA if they are able to meet an employers requirements for the job. The requirements can include education, training, skills, experience, as well as any licenses. A person must be able to perform the essentials of the job or the fundamental duties - with or without reasonable accommodation. Even if a person is qualified for a job, an employer can still choose to hire someone without a disability if that other person is more qualified.
While employers are not required to, they might decide to give a veteran with a service-connected disability preference in hiring. Federal agencies may use specific rules and regulations referred to as, 'special hiring authorities,' to hire people with disabilities outside of the normal hiring process. Sometimes they might be required to give veterans preferential treatment, to include veterans with disabilities, when making hiring, promotion, and additional employment determinations.
Veterans with disabilities such as amputations, or those who use wheelchairs, sometimes wonder if an employer can ask about the loss of a limb, why they use a wheelchair, or how they sustained the injury they experience. The plain fact is that an employer cannot ask about a person's disability, whether the disability a person has is noticeable or not. An employer can; however, ask you if you need an accommodation, and if you do - what kind. If there is a particular task involved in the performance of the job you are applying for, an employer can ask whether you will need assistance in performing the task and ask you to demonstrate how you will perform it. Also, if you reveal the injury, illness, or disability you have to an employer and that employer believes you will require an accommodation, they might ask what accommodation you need in order to perform the job.
Veterans who wonder if they have to disclose an injury, illness, or disability that is hidden or not obvious to an employer during the interview process, or indicate these on a job application have a two-letter answer to their question: No. The ADA doesn't require you to disclose a medical condition or disability during and interview or on a job application unless you need a reasonable accommodation during the application process. Reasonable accommodations during an application process might include additional time to take a test, or the ability to provide spoken instead of written responses.
Veterans with service-connected disabilities might opt to disclose a medical condition such as a TBI or PTSD because of the symptoms they experience, or because of the need for a reasonable accommodation. After an employer has offered you a job, they can ask you questions about the medical conditions you experience and might require you to take a medical exam as long is they make everyone else in the same job answer the same questions, or take the same medical exam before they start working.
Employers sometimes have applications asking if applicants to indicate whether or not they are a disabled veteran. Some veterans wonder if this is legal, and the simple answer is yes, it is if the information is being requested for affirmative action purposes. Employers can ask people applying for jobs to voluntarily self-identify as a person with disabilities or as a disabled veteran under certain circumstances which include:
- Undertaking affirmative action because of a federal, state, or local law, including a veterans' preference law, that requires affirmative action for individuals with disabilities
- Voluntarily using the information to benefit individuals with disabilities, including veterans with service-connected disabilities.
If an employer does ask you to voluntarily identify yourself as a veteran with disabilities, they have to clearly inform you, in writing, or orally if a written questionnaire isn't used, that the information is being requested as part of their affirmative action program. The employer has to inform you that providing the information is indeed voluntary, that failure to provide it won't subject you to adverse treatment, and that the information will be kept confidential and will only be used in compliance with the ADA.
There are various types of accommodations a person may need during the application process, or while they are on the job such as:
- Access to a job coach
- Ability to work from home
- Additional time to complete a test
- Modified or part-time work schedules
- Ability to leave for treatment, recovery, or training
- Modified equipment or devices; assistive technology
- Modifications to workplaces; reconfiguring workspaces
- Accessible locations for recruitment fairs, tests, interviews, and training
- Written materials in accessible formats; large print, Braille, or on computer disks
Another reasonable accommodation veterans might ask for is reassignment to a vacant position, where disability prevents performance of their current position, or where any reasonable accommodation in their current job would result in undue hardship such as significant expense of difficulty.
Requesting a reasonable accommodation is simple enough; all you have to do is inform an employer, either through writing or a spoken request, that you need a change or adjustment in the application process or at your job for a reason related to a medical condition. If, for example, you experience a loss of hearing and are unable to hear people at work during meetings, you would need to inform your employer that you need an interpreter if you use ASL. You don't need to mention the ADA, or even use the words, 'reasonable accommodation.' Someone else can even make the request for you, such as a rehabilitation counselor, a family member, a health care professional, or another representative.
Requesting a reasonable accommodation is the first step in an informal and interactive process between you and your employer. It is a process involving a determination of whether or not you have a disability as defined by the ADA, as well as identification of accommodations. Your employer might ask you if you know what accommodation you need to help you apply for a job or to help you do your job.
If a veteran is unsure whether or not they need a reasonable accommodation, they can certainly ask for one later. You can ask for a reasonable accommodation at any time during the process of applying for a job or while at work. Usually, if a veteran is aware of a workplace barrier that prevents them from either competing for a job or performing the duties associated with their job, they should request a reasonable accommodation. It is better to request a reasonable accommodation before your job performance is affected.
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