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Veteran Labor Laws & Employment Rights

Written by Staff Writer

Soldier in fatigues holding a child with American flag in the background

Under federal law, U.S. military veterans have special rights regarding employment. Specifically, they are given preference for hiring within the federal government during layoff periods for jobs. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Veterans' Employment and Training was created in 1981 to oversee relevant laws.

The eligibility of veterans varies widely per state, job, service and other factors. To discover if you qualify, contact your local Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) office.

The Veteran's Employment and Training Service

The Veterans' Employment and Training Service monitors and investigates veterans' rights. This Department of Labor agency was created to help veterans transition from military service to civilian life with good jobs and reliable employment opportunities. The program provides employment and training services through grants and cooperative agreements at a national level.

Disabled Veterans' Outreach

The Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program (DVOP) is a part of VETS that aims to place disabled veterans in jobs they can perform despite any injuries and disabilities they suffered during military service. These types of disability-specific programs are typically stationed at state employment offices, medical centers, military installations and veterans' affairs outreach centers.

Working with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense and other veteran organizations, DVOP specialists help train veterans and find them appropriate jobs. The DVOP provides grant funds for these state's employment services.

Local Veterans Employment

Another labor program called the Local Veterans Employment Representatives (LVER) program introduces veterans to employment and community services available to them. The LVER program helps former military professionals search for jobs, write resumes and practice interviewing skills. They also monitor job listings to give priority referrals for eligible veterans, identify training opportunities and provide counseling.

Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Acts (USERRA)

USERRA addresses veterans' questions of eligibility, job entitlements, employer obligations and benefits. It does not establish federal regulations but provides "elaws" to serve as guidance for employees and employers. The rights of each veteran change with many different circumstances, and any veteran wondering about his or her rights and eligibility should contact a USERRA Advisor. General rights include:

  • If the veteran left a job for service, he or she has a right to reemployment to a job with matching benefits as long as:
    • Employer receives a verbal or written advanced notice of your service
    • Veteran returns to work in a timely manner after service
    • Veteran received no dishonorable discharge from service
    • While working for that employer, veteran has five or less years of cumulative service
  • Employers may not deny promotions, benefits, initial employment, reemployment or retention in employment to current or future members of uniformed service because of their involvement in the service
  • Employees who leave their job for military services may maintain their employer-based health plan, including coverage for their dependents, for up to 24 months. If the employee opts out of this option, he or she has the right to be re-instated into the health plan upon reemployment

Veterans can file a discrimination report if they are refused a job because of their veteran status. If you have experienced an incident where you felt discriminated against because you are a veteran, consider filing a report.


Employers may hire a replacement for a position vacated by someone performing military service; however, upon the service member's return, he or she is entitled to reemployment even if the replacement must be terminated. Employers cannot require an employee to produce a military order granting leave of absence, though the employee should provide a verbal or written notice.

Employers are not obligated to pay an employee during his or her military service, though many do so. However, employers may be entitled to continue the employee's health insurance for up to 18 months.

Federal Contractors

Federal contractors must give veterans priority in hiring. All contractors and subcontractors must annually file a VETS-4212 form if the contract exceeds current contractor reporting limits. The current dollar amount is subject to change. Details about filing the form and the mandatory reporting threshold can be found on VETS-4212 Federal Contractor Reporting page.

Other VETS Programs and Veteran Rights

In addition to giving veterans preference in hiring for federal government jobs, there are other labor programs relevant for veterans. VETS provides on-the-job training and transition assistance for veterans and members of the National Guard called to active duty. VETS also provides employers and veterans service organizations with technical assistance to help them understand and comply with these labor laws.

When employees return from military service, employers are required to promptly rehire them — meaning within days rather than months. Veterans who believe that their rights have been violated can file a complaint with VETS within 60 days of the alleged incident.

To learn more about labor laws that apply to veterans, check out the U.S. Department of Labor's VETS site and the Frequently Asked Questions page.