By Carol L. O’Riordan
Is the federal government doing enough to help people with disabilities get into the workforce and remain there in productive jobs? Are people with disabilities receiving their fair share of jobs in the federal contracting workforce?
The U.S. Department of Labor has announced that it is taking action to try to ensure that people with disabilities get a fair share of employment on federal contracts. On August 27, 2013, the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) announced a rule that creates for the first time an aspirational goal of 7 percent of the federal contract and subcontract workforce for people with disabilities.
Since its passage in 1973, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 has required government contractors and subcontractors to affirmatively recruit, hire, train and promote qualified individuals with disabilities. However, as the Labor Department noted, the unemployment rate in this group remains stubbornly high.
Although the 7 percent number was already part of federal law, the recent action by the Labor Department for the first time provides metrics – management tools that create accountability – to measure contractors’ and subcontractors’ progress towards achieving that goal.
The new regulations apply to all federal contract and subcontracts involving $10,000 or more in the United States. The 7 percent “utilization goal,” the Labor Department said, is not a quota or a ceiling, and a company’s failure to meet the goal would not be a violation of law that would subject the company to enforcement actions.
The 7 percent goal is applied to each job group – or, if the contractor has 100 or fewer employees, to the entire workforce. Contractors must conduct an annual utilization analysis and assessment of problem areas regarding the employment of people with disabilities. If problems are identified, the contractor must implement remedial programs. Contractors must also set up programs to ensure that no employees are harassed on the basis of their disability.
The new regulations also provide for yearly documentation of contractors’ efforts to hire people with disabilities. Each year, contractors must complete comparisons of the number of people with disabilities who apply for jobs and the number actually hired by the contractor. The data must be maintained for three years.
This is the first of two posts on this topic. In our next post, we will discuss other details of the new regulation, such as how to identify people with disabilities, and subcontractors’ obligations.