With the largest population of veterans of any state in the country, California has an extra reason to celebrate this Veteran’s Day. Just last month, Governor Brown signed a new law that will prohibit employment discrimination and harassment in California based on military and veteran status.
Effective on the first day of 2014, AB 556, sponsored by Assemblymember Salas of Bakersfield, amends the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of military or veteran status or the perception of such status.
Lawmakers were motivated to change the law by the unacceptably high unemployment rates of California veterans. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) conducted a survey of their members and found that 24% of them were unemployed. The Los Angeles Times reported that half of IAVA’s members believed that employers were not open to hiring veterans.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s September 2013 unemployment numbers, veterans who have served in the armed forces since September 11, 2001, have an unemployment rate of 10.1%, compared to a civilian unemployment rate of 6.8%. Broken down by gender, the unemployment rates show that women veterans have a higher unemployment rate (11.6%) than male veterans (9.7%). Female veterans also have a higher unemployment rate than female non-veterans (6.5%).
While a number of federal and state laws do specifically address veterans’ employment issues and leaves of absence (see upcoming Blog post on leaves for veterans and military families), having specific state-law employment discrimination and harassment protections for veterans can help in a number of ways. First, the new law will raise awareness of the serious employment problems facing veterans as employers revisit their employment policies, procedures, postings, and training regarding discrimination and harassment. Second, veterans who experience employment discrimination or harassment will have access to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the State agency charged with investigating their claims and filing court cases to enforce the law. Third, adding additional protections to FEHA means that California employment lawyers will become more familiar with representing and advocating on behalf of veterans.
The new law provides protections to any member or veteran of the United States Armed Forces, United States Armed Forces Reserve, the United States National Guard, and the California National Guard. The bill still permits employers to consider veteran status for purposes of veteran preferences in hiring, a practice encouraged by the Veterans Administration.
As we salute our veterans for their service, let’s also celebrate the great strides the Golden State is making towards full integration of our veterans as they return to our communities.