By Jay Zelenock
Special to the Record-Eagle
---- — The Record-Eagle recently published several articles regarding local efforts to improve employment opportunities for military veterans, including the State Theatre’s initiative to give “preference in employment” to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
I commend the State Theatre for its “veteran’s preference” initiative and offering more employment opportunities to veterans, because this preference will not only employ a number of individuals with a history of hard work and dedication to service, but also offer well-deserved thanks and support to those who have already contributed so much to our country and Traverse City.
Veterans and their families should also be aware that we have a state law in Michigan called the Veterans Preference Act (“VPA”), M.C.L. 35.401, et seq., which gives beneficial employment rights to qualified veterans who currently work or hope to work within any public department or upon the public works of the state, county, city, etc. - with limited exceptions.
The VPA mandates that a qualified veteran “be preferred for appointment and employment” with most state, county and municipal levels of government. The VPA “was enacted for the purpose of discharging, in a measure, the debt of gratitude the public owes to veterans who have served in the armed services in time of war, by granting them a preference in original employment and retention thereof in public service.” Leelenau County Sheriff v Kiessel, 297 Mich App 285, 824 NW2d 576, 582 (2012) (internal quotations and citation omitted).
The VPA protects qualified veterans employed in many governmental jobs by essentially protecting them from most arbitrary or discretionary firings, because qualified veterans may only be terminated for “official misconduct, habitual, serious or willful neglect in the performance of duty, extortion, conviction of intoxication, conviction of felony, or incompetency.” M.C.L. 35.402. And a qualified veteran may not be terminated until he/she has had a proper hearing under the VPA, which affords him/her (1) the right to be present at the hearing, (2) the right to be represented by counsel and (3) the right to defend himself/herself against the charges against him/her. Id.
If a city or county employer, for example, terminates a qualified veteran without following the VPA, the veteran can file a written protest to challenge the termination and have a hearing to determine if his/her termination was justified under the VPA. Veterans and their families should be aware of the VPA and remember that there is generally a short 30-day timeline to file a written protest and request a hearing in the event of an improper discharge. A failure to file a written protest within 30 days of a wrongful discharge will generally lead to a forfeit of the benefits and privileges under the VPA.
The State Theatre’s new initiative is consistent with the VPA’s goal of extending thanks and a “preference” in employment to veterans. I hope to see other businesses copy this initiative in our area.
About the author: Jay Zelenock is an attorney based in downtown Traverse City who assists clients with civil matters, including insurance and employment law issues.
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