Privacy, Please: What To Never Ask A Military Veteran In The Workplace

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Military veteran in the workplace

While the copious benefits of hiring military vets has been well-reported and it appears U.S. employers are taking heed, there are a number of critical considerations business owners and managers must keep top-of mind—and impart to their staffers—relative to what’s considered inappropriate dialogue with a person who has served in the military. There are also legal land mines to avoid when interviewing a veteran for any kind of employment opportunity, whether full- or part-time, contract, freelance or any other.

According to retired Army Lieutenant Colonel John Berry of Berry Law Firm, you can improve your veteran hiring and retention by making small changes to your interview process. Berry, whose law firm became the first to ever receive the Department of Labor’s HIREVets Platinum Medallion, has filled his staff with veterans by following a few simple rules, among them are a list of questions to never ask.

Do you have PTSD?

First, in an interview situation, it’s illegal to ask this mental health question before a job offer has been made under the Americans With Disabilities Act, and even after, unless certain conditions are met. So, avoid this line of questioning (even after a hiring decision has been made) or risk exposing the company to legal repercussions. Second, it’s just disrespectful. The veteran will likely think they’re being stigmatized and labeled as damaged goods in some way or regarded as a stereotypical unstable veteran, which will make it difficult to establish trust, a healthy rapport and a sustainable professional relationship ongoing.

Have you ever killed anyone?

Most veterans who served in combat don’t want to discuss the details of their military service with a civilian, whether it be a boss or workplace counterpart. This question can be offensive, disconcerting or generally uncomfortable to the veteran who did, in fact, have to take a life in the defense of his or her country—and can be equally objectionable for veterans who made many sacrifices, but did not have to take the life of another. The notion of taking another human being’s life in the line of duty is a highly sensitive and emotion-evoking topic that demands the utmost courtesy of privacy.

Have you ever been shot?

While the veteran may not have a current disability from an injury, you don’t want to take the chance of touching on what could be deep-seeded emotional wounds and traumatic memories of physical distress that may have been difficult to come to terms with. Furthermore, the veteran who was not in combat is likely proud of his or her accomplishments in the military, and, whether or not they’ve engaged in gunfire and/or been hit, may perceive the comment as belittling.

In a DiversityInc.com workplace article, army veteran Ryan Kules stated, “Far too often, people assume a level of familiarity with former military that not only breeches proper office conduct but also invades one’s ‘personal space.’”

With that in mind, according to a www.military.com article, here are a few other things one should avoid in a job interview or any other form of conversation.

Don’t make combat references or analogies

It’s bad form to tell a veteran that dealing with a competitor or other professional foe is like hand-to-hand combat or that you’re taking friendly fire. Relating these kinds of serious phrases in the mind and heart of a veteran to civilian experiences can be distasteful at best and even deemed utterly reprehensible.

Don’t make fun of any military branch if you didn’t serve

It’s generally accepted for veterans to lightheartedly make fun of the other branches of service with and among fellow veterans. You might hear a vet refer to Marines as crayon eaters, joke about the Air Force not really being military, and other such tongue-in-cheek remarks. However, veterans greatly frown upon a person who has never served making fun of their branch of service or any other.

Don’t bad-mouth military conflicts

You may think you are showing empathy by talking about unnecessary wars and deployments and that our veterans should not have had to make sacrifices. Political views aside, you may be speaking to a veteran who is proud to have served in that conflict and, irrespective of all, respects the governmental decisions made to go that route. Don’t risk degrading the veteran’s actual service—and choice to throw themselves into the fray—because you disagree with the nature of the conflict.

“Veterans are some of the hardest working, dedicated and loyal employees you could ever hope to hire…I know, because I have hired dozens of them on my team,” Berry noted. “They are the most important asset in my company. If you get the chance to hire a veteran, don’t mess up what can be a hugely fruitful and rewarding engagement by saying something distasteful. As a hiring manager or a colleague, you can establish camaraderie with veteran coworkers simply by being a mindful and respectful person.”

—Submitted by Berry Law Firm

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