With Veterans’ Day fresh on everyone’s minds, it is a good time to highlight Georgia’s recently enacted Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act (House Bill 443). The Act was passed during the 2015 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly and was signed by Governor Nathan Deal on May 5, 2015. The law went into effect on July 1, 2015. The law allows employers to create and use a policy that provides for preferential hiring, promoting, or retention to veterans of the United States’ armed forces over any other qualified applicant or employee. This means, generally, that employers can provide preferential treatment to veteran employees and/or applicants when making decisions about hiring, promotions, and retention during a reduction in force, without risk of violating state or local equal opportunity employment laws.
Though the law seems simple and straightforward on its face, employers are likely scratching their heads as to how to actually create and implement such a policy. Though consulting with counsel is always advisable when creating new employment policies (particularly when doing so requires interpretation of a new and untested law), the following will answer some of the most common questions being asked by Georgia employers about Georgia’s Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act.
Does the Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act apply to my business?
The new law defines “employer” as “any person engaged in business and having one or more employees, but does not include the federal government, state, or any political subdivision of the state.” Thus, if your business has one or more employees and is not a governmental or political entity, your business is likely entitled to create and use a veterans’ preference employment policy. Note, of course, that the law does not require employers to create and use such a policy and there will be no penalty for declining to provide preferential treatment to veterans.
Who qualifies for a veteran’s preference?
A “veteran,” for purposes of the new law, is defined as “an individual who served on active duty in the armed forces of the United States and was honorably discharged from such service.” Notably, this is significantly broader than, for example, Florida’s veterans’ preference law, which allows for preference only to veterans with a disability or current members of any reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces or Florida National Guard. (On the other hand, Florida’s law also permits preference to be given to spouses and family members of some categories of veterans, which is a much broader category of qualified individuals than permitted in Georgia.) In Georgia, to qualify for preferential treatment, one must only show that (1) they served in active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces; and (2) they were honorably discharged from service.
What does “active duty” mean?
Georgia’s new law does not provide its own definition of the requirement that veterans receiving preference have served on “active duty.” However, the generally accepted definition of the phrase is: “full-time duty in the active military service of the United States. Such term includes full-time training duty, annual training duty, and attendance, while in the active military service, at a school designated as a service school by law or by the Secretary of the military department concerned. Such term does not include full-time National Guard duty.” (10 U.S.C. §101(d)(1).)
What documents should we ask an applicant/employee to provide to qualify for preference?
The law does not specifically require employers to seek documentation to verify that a veteran qualifies for preference, but does require that veterans have been honorably discharged. Thus, as ever, it is wise for employers to document and verify an applicant and/or employee’s qualification for preference. The best documentation an employer can request is likely a Department of Defense document commonly known as the DD-214 or military discharge papers, which will list military status, dates of service, character of discharge.
What are the requirements of a veterans’ preference employment policy?
The law requires only that the veterans’ preference employment policy be in writing and applied uniformly. It is likely that the limits of such a policy will be tested and better defined in Georgia’s courts over time and, again, consultation with an experienced employment attorney is advised both when drafting and implementing such a policy.
The law excludes state government employees – does the State of Georgia offer any kind of Veterans’ Preference in hiring?
Yes. Some veterans and veterans’ spouses are eligible to receive points added to their passing score in a pre-employment exam for a position with the State of Georgia, as long as they can provide proper documentation of their qualification. Veterans will receive five (5) points added to their scores. A veteran’s surviving spouse, disabled veteran, and disabled veteran’s spouse will all receive ten (10) points added to their exam scores.
Georgia’s Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act is part of a national trend toward providing assistance to veterans in seeking employment after the conclusion of their service and, in fact, an increasing number of states now have proposed or enacted similar laws. It is expected that courts both nationwide and in Georgia will continue to further define and limit the practical applications of these laws over time. For now, employers are encouraged to seek the assistance of counsel if they intend to create a veterans’ preference policy.