New Oklahoma Law Allows Employers to Give Preference to Veterans

Posted by Charles Middleton on 04/21/2015

Q: Last week, Gov. Fallin signed into law the Voluntary Veterans' Preference Employment Policy Act, which goes into effect

Nov. 1. What's the law and what does it allow employers to do?

A: The law allows employers to give preference, in decisions of hiring, promotion and retention during layoffs to a veteran who served on active duty in the United States Armed Forces and was discharged or released with an honorable discharge status. If the employer follows the provisions of the new law in the decisions it makes, that can then insulate the employer from challenges regarding discrimination based on sex, race, age or disability by the applicants not hired, or the employees not promoted or retained in a layoff.

Q: That could be taken as unfair to some people; what is the rationale behind the law?

A: Veterans' preference laws have traditionally been justified as measures designed to reward veterans for the sacrifice of military service, to ease the transition from military to civilian life, to encourage patriotic service, and to attract loyal and well-disciplined people to civil service occupations.

Q: Are all private employers subject to this law?

A: No. To be applicable, a private employer has to put in place a written policy, which must be consistently and uniformly applied to all applicants and employees who have a veteran status. This means that the employer has to follow the preference for all veterans, and cannot pick and choose which veterans to whom preference will be granted. Without this, an employer would not be entitled to the protections of the law.

Q: What impact does this potentially create on a workforce?

A: Employers considering the implementation of such policies need to be mindful that there may be an unintended, but inevitable, disadvantage to women applicants and employees, and should take that into account when analyzing whether a policy like this fits with their workforce needs and philosophy. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has recognized that, as a result of long-standing federal statutes, regulations and policies that have excluded women or sharply limited women's eligibility to serve in the armed forces, and also of the fact that women have never been subjected to a military draft, only 10 percent of veterans are women. Consequently, veterans' preference policies may operate overwhelmingly to the advantage of men. However, despite their potential for adversely affecting the employment opportunities of women, veterans' preferences that are made pursuant to written policies enacted under laws like this aren't subject to challenge under Title VII or Oklahoma anti-discrimination laws, provided there was no direct intent to discriminate against applicants and employees on the basis of sex, race, age or disability.

PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER

Published The Oklahoman, April 21, 2015