Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Minnesota Approves Preferential Hiring of Veterans

Here at The Modern Workplace, we have often cautioned employers to be very careful when hiring to avoid claims of discrimination. In particular, we have cautioned employers about using an employee’s class (such as gender, race, etc.) when making a hiring decision. Our advice may be different, at least in Minnesota, if the class of workers involved is veterans or their spouses.

During the last legislative session, the Minnesota Legislature enacted a new law which allows private employers to offer favorable treatment to veterans and their spouses in the hiring process.  The new statute (Minn. Stat. 197.4551) permits employers to grant a preference in hiring and promotion to a veteran, the spouse of a disabled veteran who has a service connected permanent and total disability, or the spouse of a deceased veteran. The statutory change appears to be consistent with recent actions taken by the federal government, state governments, and private employers to promote the hiring of veterans as discussed in a recent blog post.

For years, public sector employers have been required to give veterans and spouses of disabled veterans preferences in hiring under the Veteran’s Preference Act (Minn. Stat. 197.46).  Unlike the Veteran’s Preference Act, this new law affecting private employers does not require preferential treatment of veterans; rather, it protects employers who offer preferential treatment from liability. In particular, the new law states that the granting of a preference under the statute does not violate any local or state equal employment opportunity law, including the Minnesota Human Rights Act. 

Nonetheless, employers should not rely solely on the protections afforded under this new state statute when making a hiring decision. The new statute does not, and cannot, be used to defend a claim of discrimination based on a federal statute (such as Title VII). Therefore, before making any hiring decision, employers should be careful to analyze all the surrounding circumstances to insure that unlawful discrimination is not a factor.

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