Chapter 35C of the Code of Iowa provides the basis of the veterans’ preference law and states that military veterans of qualified wars and service shall receive a preference, “in the appointment and employment over other applicants of no greater qualification.” Chapter 35.1 lists the activities that resulted in veteran status for these purposes and it includes all who served in any active federal service, other than training, in the U.S. Armed Forces and who was discharged under honorable conditions. This is in addition to the previous definition which listed numerous armed conflicts in which veterans might have served. Previously the law only applied to Iowa veterans, but the law now includes any veteran that is a resident of the U.S.
Cities are required to create and use applications that include an inquiry into the applicant’s military service. For all jobs filled by competitive examination or appointment, the law requires cities to post a public notice of the application deadline to fill a job 10 days prior to the deadline. The posting requirement is the same as for posting agendas in that the notice is to be posted in a prominent place which is easily accessible to the public and clearly designated for that purpose. The fact that a city has advertised for the position in a newspaper or other publication does not fulfill the posting obligation of the statute.
The veteran hiring preference includes cities in the civil service system and cities that use point-rated qualifying exams. Chapter 400.10 describes how a veteran shall receive additional points to their grade or score. The point system adds an additional 5 percentage points for veterans. Also, another 5 percentage points must be added if the veteran has a service-connected disability, is receiving compensation disability benefits or was awarded the Purple Heart.
Another provision in Chapter 35C allows a preferred veteran to request notification of a refusal to hire and the specific grounds for refusal. The veteran may make this request at the time of application or during an interview for the position. If such a request is made, cities are required to send the notification of refusal and the specific grounds (if also requested) to the veteran within 10 days after the successful applicant is selected.
Cities that fail to comply with the veterans’ preference laws may be taken to court by the veteran. The hiring process can be stopped by court action, and the veteran may also appeal the hiring decision to the district court in the county in which the action occurred. After considering the evidence the court may determine if the applicant is qualified and, if so, shall specifically direct further action by the city. Under both provisions the parties may, as an alternative, seek judicial review in accordance with the terms of the Iowa Administrative Procedure Act. In addition, the law contains a provision that allows the preferred veteran to seek final and binding arbitration.
Veterans’ Preference and Discharging Employees
Preferred veterans are also afforded certain protections in matters of discharging an employee. Chapter 35C.6 states that a veteran shall not be removed from a position, “except for incompetency or misconduct shown after a hearing, upon due notice, upon stated charges, and with the right of such employee or appointee to a review by a writ of certiorari or at such person’s election, to judicial review in accordance with the terms of the Iowa Administrative Procedure Act, Chapter 17A, if that is otherwise applicable to their case.” The burden of proving incompetence or misconduct lies with the city. This is true even if your city considers itself to be an at-will employer. While it is best to work with your city attorney on any employee terminations, the additional burden under this statute makes close consultation vital.
City officials should note that when hiring for a position they need to make every effort to hire the best and most qualified person for the job. Chapter 35C clearly states that preferred veterans must be hired only, “in the appointment and employment over other applicants of no greater qualification.” Adhering to these provisions as well as other sound hiring practices should lead to a successful hiring process.