California Increases Anti-Discrimination Protections for Those with Military Service
With over a million men and women on active duty and many times that number in civilian veterans around the U.S., protecting the employment rights of those who have served is an incredibly important issue. In California, new laws have taken effect as of January 1st of this year which will help protect those with military service when it comes to employment.
As of September of last year, California had the most active military that called the state home of any state, beating out Texas by around 20,000 people at 180,000 active military. Perhaps it’s no surprise they’ve taken these extra steps with the newly effected Assembly Bill 1710.
Some level of employment protections against discrimination based on military service already exist in most states and at a federal level. However, the new rules in California take these protections even further than before and provide additional penalties for violations. Let’s take a look at the federal rules and the new California protections to understand what these rules mean for you or your business.
Federal Law and Existing California Law that Protects Veterans from Discrimination
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, better known as USERRA, and the Veteran’s Employment and Training Services (VETS) Act are likely the two most substantial federal protections for veterans in the workforce. USERRA makes it illegal to discriminate in employment, firing, or promotions based on somebody’s military service.
The VETS act provides training and employment placement services to veterans. Additionally, the 2011, Veterans Opportunity to Work and Hire Heroes expanded training and placement and programs. USERRA, however, represents the main federal anti-discrimination provisions protecting civilian veterans in the workforce.
In California, the law prohibits discrimination against an officer, warrant officer, or other enlisted member of the U.S. military or naval forces based on their membership or service. This protection includes, among other things, discrimination when it comes to employment. There are civil and criminal penalties for those who violate these provisions. AB 1710 takes these rules even further.
What are the Changes in AB 1710?
The new bill expands the protections already in place, although it does not replace them, to include some more specific elements of the employment process beyond just hiring, firing, promotions, and general negative employment action. The new bill also expands the definitions of the discrimination rules to broaden the scope of those impacted by the law. Finally, the act makes it a criminal misdemeanor, as well as a civil cause of action for damages and attorney’s fees, to violate California military anti-discrimination provisions.
The new rules prevent prejudice or injury based on military service or membership from any person, employer, officer or agent of a corporation, company or firm. The new rules prevent discrimination in the terms, condition, and privileges of employment, position or status.
This is beyond the usual protections against being refused a job or promotion based on military status and ensures that veterans are not denied benefits compared to those in similar positions based on their military membership. Benefits which cannot be denied include, but are not limited to, health care (although it can be at the employee’s expense), life insurance, disability insurance, and seniority status. The new rules also extend these protections to employment actions taken by an officer or employee of the state, or any county, city, municipal corporation, or district based on military service status.
The rules also make it a misdemeanor and civil cause of action for a person to refuse entry to an active service member of any military branch access to any public entertainment or place of amusement–along with several other locations–based on the fact that they are wearing their military uniform.
Employers are also not allowed to fire somebody over their performance of any ordered military duty or training. They also may not hinder them from performing any military service or attending drills, instruction, or anything they are called on to perform. This includes acting prejudicing the employee’s terms of employment, threatening to fire them, etc.
Private employers are not allowed to fire or take negative employment action against an employee based on any temporary incapacity–taken out of commission for 52 weeks or less–due to duty in the National Guard or Naval Militia.
Finally, the new rules prevent discrimination in lending or financing based on a person’s membership in U.S. military or naval forces. This means that lenders cannot deny a loan to an otherwise covered borrower just because they serve or served in a branch of the military or in the National Guard.
Why this is an Important Step Toward Protecting Our Military and Veterans
AB 1710 is taking some substantial steps in expanding the anti-discrimination protections of those who chose to join the military or National Guard in service of the United States. These new rules expand not only the protections but also the enforcement mechanisms behind those protections.
As a former or current military member in California, it’s crucial to know the protections available to you. This new law has expanded your rights quite a bit and it’s important to know them, so you can protect yourself in the workplace. As an employer, it’s important that you keep your policies up to date to stay out criminal and civil legal hot water. Talk to your HR department and make sure you’re keeping everything compliant with these new rules.
Jonathan Lurie is a Founding Partner of The Law Offices of Lurie and Ferri (Contact Info). He primarily handles business law, employment law, and intellectual property issues, but works with all types of civil matters. He is a Vice-Chair of the Sports and Entertainment Interest Group of the California Intellectual Property Section and has won awards for his knowledge of intellectual property, start-up business issues, and California civil procedure.