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What Employers Need to Know About the New Veterans Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 (VOW Act)

The Veterans Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 (“VOW Act”) became law on November 21, 2011. The legislation includes three essential provisions that employers need to know.

  • First, VOW amends the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA) and expands the protections of USERRA to provide veterans and military service members with a cause of action for hostile work environment. This aspect of VOW was in response to a recent Federal Court of Appeals decision that held that USERRA did not provide a cause of action for hostile work environment because it did not then continue the phrase “terms, conditions or privileges of employment,” which was contained in other anti-discriminatory statutes. VOW amends USERRA to prohibit discrimination against veterans and service members with respect to the “terms, conditions or privileges of employment.”
  • Second, VOW provides new and expanded training, education and transition programs for veterans within various federal agencies.
  • Third, VOW provides certain tax credits to employers that hire unemployed veterans.

In light of VOW’s amendment of USERRA to provide veterans and military service members with a cause of action for hostile work environment, employers should immediately update their applicable handbook policies and procedures, including their EEO policy and anti-harassment policy, to specifically include veteran status and military service member status as protected categories. Employers also should make managers and supervisors aware of this new protection, and of the importance of understanding that USERRA, particularly as amended by VOW, provides veterans and military service members with additional forms of job protection.

Marc Engel is an employment and litigation attorney at Lerch, Early & Brewer in Bethesda, Maryland. For more information about the impact of VOW on your workplace, contact Marc at (301) 657-0184 or mrengel@lerchearly.com.

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