Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Improving Job Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities at Government Contractors
Government contractors, when entering into contracts subject to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (which are all contracts greater than $10,000 unless a waiver is granted), are required to take affirmative action to employ, and advance in employment, qualified individuals with disabilities, without discrimination based on their physical or mental disability. The specific procedures are laid out in 41 CFR Part 60-741 and incorporated into contracts by 48 CFR 52.222.36.
These rules have bee in place for nearly 40 years and require contractors to make a good faith effort to recruit and hire people with disabilities. However, according to the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), the existing rules are not working. The current unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 13 percent, significantly higher than the rate of those without disabilities. Additionally, data recently published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show disparities facing working-age individuals with disabilities, with 79.2 percent outside the labor force altogether, compared to 30.5 percent of those without disabilities.
To rectify this situation, the U.S. Department of Labor is proposing new rules that would require federal contractors and subcontractors to set a hiring goal of having 7 percent of their work forces be people with disabilities, among other requirements. The proposed rules were published last December and the period for public comment closes on February 7, 2012.
These new rules are designed to strengthen the affirmative action requirements established by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The proposed regulatory changes detail specific actions contractors must take in the areas of recruitment, training, record keeping and policy dissemination - similar to those that have long been required to promote workplace equality for women and minorities. In additions, the rule would clarify expectations for contractors by providing specific guidance on how to comply with the law.
Establishing a 7 percent hiring goal for the employment of individuals with disabilities would be a tool for contractors to measure the effectiveness of their affirmative action efforts and thereby inform their decision-making. The proposed rule also would enhance data collection and record-keeping requirements - including for documentation and processing of requests for reasonable accommodation - in order to improve accountability. Additionally, it would ensure annual self-reviews of employers' recruitment and outreach efforts, and add a new requirement for contractors to list job openings to increase their pools of qualified applicants.
These new rules, if adopted, will significantly increase the administrative and reporting burdens of Government contractors. Tomorrow, we will look more specifically at the new requirements to be imposed on Government contractors.