by Greg Northen
On April 4, 2013, Governor Mike Beebe signed a law allowing private employers to voluntarily decide whether to use veteran status as a preference in making hiring decisions. By enacting the Voluntary Veterans Preference Bill (H.B. 1575), Arkansas employers now have the choice of whether to lawfully consider Veteran status as a hiring decision. There is no requirement that employers do so, but there is now no question as to whether doing so may violate any other state statutes governing preferences in employers’ hiring choices.
This new law is in line the federal guidance as well. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Compliance Manual already contains a partial exemption for Veteran Status when used as a hiring determination if it is a legislatively-enacted preference. This is true even where a disproportionate number of employees is of a certain protected status, e.g. males, so long as the employer does not use veteran status as a means to intentionally discriminate against another group protected-status employees, i.e. females.
The new Arkansas law affords more incentive for employers to hire veterans (an increasing number of the American workforce) in addition to previous laws. For instance, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects employees’ job positions who are deployed on active duty status. Further, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) already includes additional coverage for military members and their family members. With this new Arkansas law, employers now have more flexibility in choosing to hire veterans.