Department of Labor Sets New Goal to Improve Employment for Americans with Disabilities

Disabled WorkerThe U.S. Department of Labor has proposed a historic new rule that could require federal contractors and subcontractors to establish hiring goals that 7 percent of their workforce be people with disabilities. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is currently soliciting public comment on this proposal, and plans to publish responses in the forthcoming edition of the Federal Register.

The OFCCP’s prospective rule would bolster affirmative action requirements set forth in Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and obligate federal contractors / subcontractors to give equal employment opportunities to qualified workers with disabilities. The potential regulatory changes also include particular actions that contractors would be required to take in recruiting, training, record keeping and policy dissemination — much like those already required to foster workplace equality for minorities and women.

In an announcement released by the Labor Department, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis stated that the proposed rule represents “one of the most significant advances in protecting the civil rights of workers with disabilities since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. President Obama has demonstrated a commitment to people with disabilities. This proposed rule would help federal contractors better fulfill their legal responsibility to hire qualified workers with disabilities.”

While Section 503 policies have already been in place for decades, people with disabilities are presently experiencing an unemployment rate of 13 percent, which is one and a half times higher than those without disabilities. Even more alarming is the data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which confirms blatant disparities for working-age Americans with disabilities, with 79% completely outside the labor force, compared to 30% of those without disabilities.

“For nearly forty years, the rules have said that contractors simply need to make a ‘good faith’ effort to recruit and hire people with disabilities. Clearly, that’s not working,” said OFCCP Director Patricia A. Shiu. “Our proposal would define specific goals, require real accountability and provide the clearest possible guidance for employers seeking to comply with the law. What gets measured gets done. And we’re in the business of getting things done.”

Setting a 7% hiring goal for hiring Americans with disabilities provides a tool for contractors to assess the effectiveness of various affirmative action efforts. The proposed rule would also improve requirements for data research and documentation to enhance accountability. Additionally, it would institute annual self-reviews of employers’ outreach and recruitment efforts, and include a new requirement for contractors to post job openings to broader pools of qualified candidates.

Learn more about Disability Benefits through the Labor and Industries website.

If you believe you are the victim of employment discrimination, contact a Seattle employment attorney for help with your case. Emery Reddy also represents Washington workers with L&I claims and workers compensation claims.

Emery Reddy