The Returning Veteran: 8 Strategies to Ease Their Return to the Workplace

From the HR blog at TLNT.
From the HR blog at TLNT.

While celebrated upon their return from active duty, veterans pose a variety of challenges for employers when reentering the workforce.

Federal laws like the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Act of 1994 (USERRA) and the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior Act of 2011 mandate the re-employment of vets and offer tax incentives to entice employers to hire them, but successfully integrating veterans into today’s workforce can involve much more.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a term that was not often used or heard until the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet experts now claim that nearly one of every five (5) combat vets from these wars suffers from some form or effect of PTSD.

Significant hurdles in returning to work

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and like-minded state laws require non-discrimination and reasonable accommodation for disabled applicants and employees, including of course returning vets. But while dealing with obvious or declared war injuries may be relatively straightforward, mentally or emotionally damaged vets can present special problems.

For example, post-traumatic stress may not have been properly diagnosed and documented by a health care professional, or disclosed by a suffering vet who, for a variety of reasons, refuses to acknowledge the disorder or decides to keep it in the closet.

A vet returning to the workplace or entering non-military employment for the first time may also face significant adjustment hurdles, especially if the employer makes little or no effort to support this transition. The pressures of a 9-5 job are very different from combat but still can be very real.

The culture of a particular workplace, the expectation that the vet will immediately conform his or her behavior to fit that culture, and the consequences of non-compliance with workplace rules that strictly prohibit certain conduct (for example, racial, religious or sexual harassment; bullying, aggressive or intimidating behavior) can make the adjustment to the civilian workplace more difficult.

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Attorney Jaffe Dickerson of the law firm Littler Mendelson.

A different and more complicated problem for an employer is how to support an employee who is the spouse, domestic partner or family member of the returning vet. Experts cite an increase of 177 percent in domestic violence by returning vets who served in wars in the Middle East. Domestic violence can spill over into the workplace, affecting not only the health and safety of the victim but also his or her co-workers if the workplace is selected as the venue for an act of domestic violence or intimidation.

How employers can help returning vets

What can and should employers do to support our returning vets?

First and foremost, employers must recognize that the success of their workplace is impacted in large measure by the success of the returning vet. Thus, it is very much in the best interests of every employer to assist the returning vet as much as possible in what by its nature can be a stressful transition.

Here are eight (8) strategies to consider when employing or re-employing vets:

  1. Enhance your new employee orientation to include programs and services geared to the special needs and challenges of returning vets.
  2. Partner with groups or organizations that specialize in readjustment programs and services for vets.
  3. Offer confidential PTSD counseling and services for employees and their families through your Employee Assistance Program.
  4. Train managers and supervisors in the laws protecting veterans, how to recognize the common symptoms of PTSD, and how to respond if they suspect an employee is affected.
  5. Monitor closely the performance of returning vets, focusing in particular on those with significant performance problems or pronounced interpersonal conflicts.
  6. Train managers and supervisors regarding employer requirements for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, and what to do if they suspect employees are victims.
  7. Train managers and supervisors regarding your workplace violence and harassment policies, and regularly re-distribute the policies to all employees. Recognize that returning vets may be recipients, rather than perpetrators, of workplace harassment and discrimination based on their military service.
  8. Create and nurture a workplace culture that celebrates rather than tolerates the returning vet. Promote and sponsor activities around events such as Veterans Day and Memorial Day that honor military service.

Jaffe Dickerson is a Shareholder in the Los Angeles office of Littler Mendelson, and a board member of the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion Council. Littler is the largest employment and labor law practice in the world representing management. He has been a specialist in the field of labor and employment law for over 30 years and represents public and private sector employers in all aspects of labor and employment law before state and federal administrative agencies and courts. He is a founding member of Littler’s Diversity Council and is the former chair. He helps employers create diversity programs that are legally defensible and monitors their success. He can be contacted at jdickerson@littler.com.

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