The just announced March 31, 2019 update of the the Annual Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) hiring benchmark for federal government contractors and subcontractors changes to 5.9% provides an important reminder to U.S. employers to review and tighten the compliance of their recruiting, hiring, employment, compensation and benefits, and other policies and practices to withstand growing scrutiny and enforcement risks under federal laws.
Government contractors, subcontractors and other U.S businesses should reconfirm their compliance with the new benchmark and other VEVRAA requirements for dealing with veterans in light of the Trump Administration’s continuing emphasis on enforcing it and other federal laws protecting active duty military and veteran servicemen and women. As part of these enforcement efforts the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) has announced it plans to incorporate VEVRAA Focused Reviews into the Corporate Scheduling Announcement List next fiscal year.
The Department of Labor announced the new 5.9% 2019 benchmark today (March 27, 2019). At the same time, it also updated national and state information in the VEVRAA Benchmark Database for federal contractors and subcontractors who calculate an individualized hiring benchmark using the five-factor method.
With already large active duty and veteran population set to grow as the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and other deployments continues, the need for employers to properly honor the rights of active duty and returning service members under VEVRAA, USERRA, the expanded military related medical leave rules of the Family & Medical Leave Act and other applicable laws is more important than ever. For many businesses, active duty and veteran service members constitute valuable sources of qualified workers amid an increasingly competitive labor market. On the other hands, the special legal obligations and protections afforded these workers requires that businesses use care to meet these obligations. Failing to meet or exceed hiring benchmarks or other noncompliance with federal requirements and goals can cause federal contractors and subcontractors to incur liability for breaching federal contracts and laws. In addition, employers generally face substantial employment liability for violating VEVRRA, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act or other applicable federal or state laws. See, e.g. Enforcement e.g., Michael Sipos and Gary Smith v. FlightSafety Services Corporation, Co. Consent Decree (April 4, 2013); Mervin Jones v. Jerome County Sheriff’s Office, ID complaint (January 7, 2013); Service Members to Receive $39 Million for Violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act; Justice Department Settles Disability Discrimination Case Involving Disabled Veteran in Utah; Justice Department Reaches $12 Million Settlement to Resolve Violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by Capital One; and Justice Department Files Complaint Against Forsyth County, North Carolina, Sheriff for Violating the Employment Rights of Army National Guard Soldier.
VEVRRA & USERRA Protections For Active Duty Military & Veterans
Affirmative action hiring by government contractors and subcontractors is one of the VEVRRA requirements for government contractors and subcontractors to provide assistance to and protect returning veterans from employment discrimination.
One of two key federal laws specifically prohibiting discrimination against returning veterans, VEVRRA applies only to government contractors and subcontractors. The other law, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), applies to virtually all U.S. employers.
Among other things, VEVRAA and its implementing regulations impose affirmative action requirements that require federal contractors and subcontractors to monitor and improve efforts to recruit and hire “protected veterans.” Protected veterans generally include veterans who are:
- Disabled veterans: Those who are “entitled to compensation…under laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs” or “those who were released from active duty because of a service-connected disability;
- Recently separated veterans;
- Active duty wartime or campaign veterans;
- Campaign badge veterans; and
- Armed Forces service medal veterans.
Among other things, VEVRAA and its implementing Final Regulations generally require government contractors and subcontractors:
- To set a hiring benchmark by either: (1) adopting a benchmark based on the national percentage of veterans currently in the workforce (5.9% effective March 31, 2019); or (2) creating an individualized benchmark based on their own interpretation of the best available data nationally and within their state/region.
- Invite voluntary self-identification of applicants and employees as protected veterans. Pre-offer invitation to self-identify will involve asking whether the applicant believes that s/he is a protected veteran under VEVRAA without asking about the particular category of protection. Post-offer self-identification will request information regarding the specific category of protected veteran status. For Sample self-identification forms for both pre- and post-offer forms, see Appendix B Part 60-300 of the Final Regulation.
- Comply with OFCCP reviews including providing on-site and off-site access to documents needed for compliance and focused reviews.
- Track and report the effectiveness of veteran recruiting and hiring efforts by collecting specified data, which also must be retained for three years.
- Provide access to job listings that identify the employer as a federal contractor in a format that can be used by veterans’ Employment Service Delivery Systems (ESDS).
- Use mandated language in federal contracts (including subcontracts) to communicate the contractor’s obligations to employ and advance protected veterans.
- Find and use appropriate outreach and positive recruitment activities like the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program; the National Resource Directory and other sources contractorsfeel will be helpful in identifying and attracting veterans.
While VEVRRA only applies to government contractors and subcontractors, USERRA generally applies to all employers.
USERRA generally provides that an individual who leaves a job to serve in the uniformed services is generally entitled to continue medical coverage for up to 26 months while absent for a qualifying military leave, reemployment by the previous employer upon timely return from military leave and, upon reemployment, to restoration of service, promotion, benefits and other rights of employment.
As part of these reemployment rights, qualifying service members timely returning from military leave are entitled to receive credit for benefits, including employee pension plan benefits, that would have accrued but for the employee’s absence due to the military service. USERRA’s pension-related provisions generally require that pension plans treat a service member who is called to active duty as if the service member had no break in service for purpose of the administration of pension benefits when the service member timely returns to employment at the end of a military leave. In addition to these pension rights, USERRA also requires employers honor other rights to employment, promotion and other benefits and rights of employment.
Beyond these VEVRRA and USERRA employment rights, service members taking or returning from active duty often enjoy various other employment and other protections under various other federal and state laws, many of which have been expanded in recent years.
As many veterans suffer return with physical, cognitive or emotional injuries and conditions, veteran applicants and employees may qualify for the disability discrimination, accommodation, privacy and other protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and, in the case of government contractors and subcontractors, the Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Under requirements of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act (SSCRA), creditors including a pension plan, employer loan program or credit union generally are required to drop interest charges down to 6 percent on debt owed by those called to active duty for the period of such military service. Further, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the loan will not fail to be a qualified loan under ERISA solely because the interest rate is capped by SSCRA. These and other provisions of federal law often require pension and profit-sharing plans that allow plan loans to change loan terms and tailor other special treatment of participants who are on military leave.
In addition to the specific protection given to a service member, employers also need to be ready to honor certain family leave protections afforded to qualifying family members or caregivers of service members added to the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in recent years. As amended to include these military leave related protections, the FMLA may require certain employees who are the spouse, son, daughter, or parent of a military member to take to 12 weeks of FMLA leave during any 12-month period to address the most common issues that arise when a military member is deployed to a foreign country, such as attending military sponsored functions, making appropriate financial and legal arrangements, and arranging for alternative childcare. This provision applies to the families of members of both the active duty and reserve components of the Armed Forces. Meanwhile, the “Military Caregiver Leave” provisions added to the FMLA may entitle certain employees who are the spouse, son, daughter, parent or next of kin of a covered service member to up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave during a single 12-month period to care for the service member who is undergoing medical treatment, recuperation, or therapy, is otherwise in outpatient status, or is otherwise on the temporary disability retired list, for a serious injury or illness incurred or aggravated in the line of duty on active duty. These provisions apply to the families of members of both the active duty and reserve components of the Armed Forces. The expansion of these requirements, updating of regulation, and rising enforcement by private plaintiffs and the government make it advisable that businesses take all necessary steps to ensure their employment practices, employee benefit plans, fringe benefit programs and other practices are updated and administered to comply with the current requirements of VEVRRA, USERAA, SSCRA, the FMLA and other applicable federal and state laws.
Special care also generally is needed when designing and administering employment based health benefit programs to avoid violating federal eligibility rules prohibiting discrimination against service members, to properly offer continuation coverage and reinstatement during and following periods of service by employees and family members, and to avoid improper denial of coverage or coordination of benefit rules with military and veteran health benefits.
Given the potential liabilities that can result from noncompliance with these and other federal employment rules and requirements protecting active military and veteran service men and women, U.S. employer generally should reconfirm and carefully monitor and document their compliance with these laws to minimize their liability exposure. Where employers use subcontractors or otherwise outsource work, these businesses also should consider require their subcontractors and other service providers to contract to comply with these requirements, to supply data and other documentation that the employer might need to complete reports or otherwise defend its compliance, to cooperate in audits and other investigations, and to participate and cooperate with employer initiated compliance audits as well as government audits and investigations.
Need more information about veterans’ employment or other Human Resources, employee benefits, compensation or other performance and compliance management, check out the extensive training and other resources available on the author’s website or contact the author, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.
We also invite you to share your own best practices ideas and resources and join the discussions about these and other human resources, health and other employee benefit and patient empowerment concerns by participating and contributing to the discussions in our Health Plan Compliance Group or COPE: Coalition On Patient Empowerment Groupon LinkedIn or Project COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment Facebook Page.
About the Author
Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of management focused employment, employee benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.
Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer has advised, trained, coached and defended businesses, employee benefit plans and others, published, and problem solved on opportunities and challenges relating to employment, benefits consumer, health care, disability and other rights and needs of active duty and veteran service people and their families.
Ms. Stamer’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors; domestic and international public and private health care, education and other community service and care organizations; managed care organizations; insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations; and other private and government organizations and their management leaders.
Throughout her 30 plus year career, Ms. Stamer has continuously worked with these and other management clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend hiring, performance management, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline, reduction in force and other workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government, accreditation and quality organizations, regulatory and contractual audits, private litigation and other federal and state reviews, investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; prepare and present training and discipline; handle workforce and related change management associated with mergers, acquisitions, reductions in force, re-engineering, and other change management; and a host of other workforce related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcy and other crisis and change management; management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of workforce and other operations management to improve performance while managing workforce, compensation and benefits and other legal and operational liability and performance.
Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, heavily involved in health benefit, health care, health, financial and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career, and scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues. She regularly helps employer and other health benefit plan sponsors and vendors, health industry, insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health and insurance industry clients design, document and enforce plans, practices, policies, systems and solutions; manage regulatory, contractual and other legal and operational compliance; vendors and suppliers; deal with Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA, state insurance law and other private payer rules and requirements; contracting; licensing; terms of participation; medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, and other provider-payer relations; reporting and disclosure, government investigations and enforcement, privacy and data security; and other compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; HIPAA health care, financial, tax, HR and technology, privacy, data security and breach; health care, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA, HEDIS and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care; internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; 1557 and other Civil Rights; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.
A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.
Author of leading works on a multitude of labor and employment, compensation and benefits, internal controls and compliance, and risk management matters and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; an ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.
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