Coming Home: Accommodating Military Veterans
Have you gone from fighting for your country to fighting for your rights? Service members who return from a lengthy deployment are occasionally subject to employment discrimination because of military service, especially if injuries were sustained while overseas. If that’s the case, you need to know how the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) ensures your return to civilian employment upon completion of your service.
What is USERRA leave?
The main purpose of USERRA is to protect reemployment rights for ative, National Guard, and Reserve members who are called to active duty for up to five years. USERRA protects your job while you’re on military leave, but does not require your employer to offer paid leave. USERRA requires a verbal or written notice to be submitted pending your military service as far in advance as possible. Employers, however, cannot force employees to use earned vacation or paid time off days for military leave.
What Happens If You’re Injured Overseas?
Now that we have a basic understanding of what USERRA does and does not protect, let’s dive into the specifics of military leave.
When a service member travels overseas, there is always a risk of emotional or physical injury. A Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are among some of the most commonly experienced by service men and women after returning from deployment. PTSD can come from a multitude of traumatic events such as rape, horrific accidents, or terrorist attacks, and especially as a result from war combat.
Service members suffering from PTSD often re-experience their traumatic experience in the form of flashbacks which can induce a stress reaction. Any similar events or situations that someone suffering from PTSD is exposed to may trigger a stress reaction.
First off, not all veterans have PTSD. This is one of the most common misperceptions that employers have when it comes to hiring veterans. There are many factors to consider before ruling that a veteran is “unstable” and “dangerous.” Just because a veteran has a PTSD diagnosis doesn’t mean that they will be a workplace liability or that they will need specific accommodations.
People with PTSD may have difficulty concentrating on job tasks. There are plenty of ways employers can accommodate veterans having trouble concentrating, like allowing the employee to work from home, allowing time off for counseling, using a support animal, and providing positive reinforcement. Reasonable accommodations vary depending on the needs of the individual. As long as these accommodations don’t create a hardship on the employer, employees suffering from PTSD should have their accommodation requests met.
Is PTSD Covered Under the Americans with Disabilities Act?
How does the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) apply to mental health conditions like PTSD? PTSD is covered by the ADA, which means that employers cannot discriminate based on disabilities. This includes firing you, rejecting you for a job or promotion, or forcing you to take leave. It also means that employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.
According to the EEOC, the individualized assessment of virtually all people with PTSD will result in a determination of disability under the ADA given its inherent nature. Although not a physical injury, PTSD still impacts an employee’s ability to perform work-related duties. PTSD effects reading, concentrating, thinking, as well as basic functions of the brain.
The use of a service animal
Allowing an individual with a disability to have a service animal or an emotional support animal accompany them to work may be considered an accommodation. There are laws that prohibit employment discrimination because of a disability and require employers to provide reasonable accommodations. Individuals with disabilities, including PTSD, may use service animals and emotional support animals for a variety of reasons.
The ADA requires the animal to be under the control of the handler, vaccinated, and may specify a certain type, size, and weight.
If an employee is suffering from PTSD after returning from USERRA leave, the Americans with Disabilities requires that those employees need to be recognized and accommodated. Each employee can be a valuable asset to the work environment with a little help and understanding.