DOL releases disability hiring rules for contractors

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Federal contractors and subcontractors must take a variety of steps toward a hiring goal of 7 percent of their workforce being people with disabilities, under final regulations released by the Department of Labor on August 27.

“We applaud the Obama administration for elevating employment of people with disabilities – the nation’s largest minority group, which includes a growing number of veterans – to the level of women and racial and ethnic minorities,” Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability, said in a news release. “I feel confident in saying that the hurdles for employers will not be a difficult threshold. And there are many organizations in the disability field who stand prepared to help companies meet these goals.”

The rules represent a significant overhaul of contractor obligations under Section 503 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. While those guidelines only prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability, the new rules require contractors to increase recruitment and training procedures, as well as data collection of their disability hiring efforts.

In addition, the rules requires contractors to create voluntary self identification procedures, so as not to conflict with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations barring pre-employment disability-related inquiries.

Since the rules were first proposed in December 2011, the rules have come under significant opposition, many businesses advocates, such as the HR Policy Association, worry that compliance will force them to invade the privacy of job applicants and their employees.

The Department of Labor argues that the rules are necessary to set measurable goals to promote the goals of the ADA and Section 503.

“This goal is not a quota or a ceiling that limits or restricts the employment of individuals with disabilities,” the rules state. “Instead, the goal is a management tool that informs decision-making and provides real accountability.”

The rules apply to all contractors with contracts of more than $50,000 or 50 or more employees.

Also August 27, the DOL released final rules containing amendments to the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, which prohibits discrimination by contractors against veterans. Similarly, the rules require setting hiring benchmarks and improving outreach efforts to this population.

“In a competitive job market, employers need access to the best possible employees,” Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said in a news release. “These rules make it easier for employers to tap into a large, diverse pool of qualified candidates.”

The regulations will go into effect in 180 days after publication in the Federal Register.