US Labor Department seeks to improve job opportunities for Americans with disabilities by setting historic hiring goal for federal contractors and subcontractors

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor  is proposing a new rule that would require federal contractors and  subcontractors to set a hiring goal of having 7 percent of their workforces be people  with disabilities, among other requirements. The department’s Office of Federal  Contract Compliance Programs invites public comment on this proposal, which  will be published in the Dec. 9 edition of the  Federal Register.

OFCCP’s proposed rule would strengthen the affirmative action  requirements established in Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 obligating  federal contractors and subcontractors to ensure equal employment opportunities  for qualified workers with disabilities. 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 addition,  the rule would clarify OFCCP’s expectations for contractors by providing  specific guidance on how to comply with the law.

“This 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,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “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.”

Although Section 503 regulations have been in place for  decades, the current unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 13  percent, 1 1/2 times the rate of those without disabilities. Even more  discouraging, data published last week by the department’s Bureau of Labor  Statistics show stark 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.

“For nearly 40 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.”

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.

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