To help those who served their country, Ohio lawmakers are moving toward granting legal protection to private-sector employers who prefer to hire and promote military veterans.
A bill allowing employers to voluntarily express a preference for giving jobs to veterans and their spouses, and also protecting the workers during layoffs, was passed unanimously by the Ohio House last week.
The legislation would shield businesses from legal claims from non-veterans that they were illegally denied jobs; it specifies that vets-first hiring policies do not violate state or local equal-employment opportunity laws.
An open desire to hire veterans would not constitute an unlawful discriminatory practice in the bill, which now is before the Senate.
Fred Gittes, a Columbus lawyer with expertise in employment law, welcomes the bill and doubts that it will be used as “a tool to discriminate against any class of protected individuals” looking for jobs, such as women and minorities.
“I really doubt courts would view it as violation of any discrimination laws,” Gittes said. “It could even benefit minorities and women as more and more of them become involved in the military."
Do Ohio’s 878,000 veterans need special assistance in getting jobs?
Ohio’s average unemployment rate for veterans last year was 6.8 percent — lower than the state’s overall rate of 7.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationwide, 6.6 percent of veterans were out of work.
“We’re very happy with the way the jobs picture is going for veterans in Ohio. ... The unemployment rate is down from
10.7 percent in 2011,” said Mike McKinney, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Veterans Services.
Employers appreciate the skills and discipline of veterans and “want a formal way to show they are committed to hiring veterans, and this is a way to do it,” McKinney said of the job-preference legislation.
Nearly one in 10 adult Ohioans is a military veteran, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Federal and state laws long have given veterans preference for many government jobs.
In Ohio, veterans are awarded bonus points, depending on their military background and training, on examinations for state civil-service jobs. Also, in case of ties among applicants on civil-service exams, veterans win.
“It can make a big difference in giving veterans a leg up,” said Sloan Spalding, the employment-law section chief in the office of Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Granting Ohio employers a “safe harbor” from state job-discrimination laws does not shield them from federal laws, Sloan said.
Non-veterans who felt they were improperly passed over for a job at a company with more than 15 employees still could file discrimination complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he said.
Ohio businesses that want to adopt a policy of a hiring preference for veterans would be required to notify the Department of Job and Family Services. The agency would be required to maintain a public online registry of “vets first” companies.
The bill also would help veterans earn a degree by requiring state universities and colleges to grant them course credit after evaluating their military experience and education. Military experience also could be used toward meeting qualifications for a state occupational license.