The primary legislation concerning persons with disabilities is Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and it has parallels with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was created to specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. It requires contractors or subcontractors who have more than $10,000 in federal contracts to employ and advance qualified persons with disabilities.
It is mandated by The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), and the Americans with Disabilities Act is mandated by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
As it stands today, contractors and subcontractors are required to:
- Make outreach efforts to find and hire persons with disabilities
- Provide reasonable accommodations for employees and applicants upon their request
- Survey employees for disability status (not applicants)
- Establish a schedule to review mental and physical job qualifications (must be related to each job)
- Prevent discrimination against employees and applicants with disabilities
- Limit access to disability-related information
- Prepare a written affirmative action plan (AAP) for contracts of $50,000 or more
Another focus point for OFCCP is accessibility for individuals with a disability and disabled veterans. This applies to the physical location if contractors or subcontractors allow applications to be filled-out on-site or if they conduct interviews on-site.
In addition, it applies to websites where applications are completed. If a contractor or subcontractor is practicing their recruitment online, they need to ensure applicants with different disabilities can apply to the jobs.
Since OFCCP requires contractors and subcontractors to ensure an equal opportunity to apply and compete for jobs, it requires them to make the company websites accessible with reasonable accommodations. It is critical for contractors and subcontractors to periodically evaluate their website to ensure accessibility for applicants.
When providing reasonable accommodations, perform the following tasks because they are a component of onsite audits:
- Document the process for accommodations
- Maintain records of accommodations provided
In addition, schedule periodic self-audits. Visit OFCCP or the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) for areas they review when auditing websites. Here is a list of questions to consider when doing a self-audit:
- Does the company website display its equal employment opportunity policy?
- Can the website be navigated with a screen reader?
- Does the website time-out after a period of inactivity?
- Does the website provide fully usable online forms, PDF documents, and PowerPoint materials, particularly for individuals who use screen readers?
Contractors and subcontractors should establish a partnership with a local agency and have them test the website to determine if their clients with disabilities can successfully apply to jobs.
Sounds Similar to Affirmative Action Laws for Veterans
Current regulations for persons with disabilities parallel the current regulations for veterans due to the growth of the disabled veterans category. Even so, there are differences:
- No VETS-100A type of report for persons with disabilities
- No mandatory job listing requirement with state employment service (SES) office
Also, contractors and subcontractors typically prepare one AAP for veterans and persons with disabilities.
Attract and Hire Persons with Disabilities
When reviewing outreach efforts and plans, contractors and subcontractors can practice similar actions for recruiting persons with disabilities as they do for veteran outreach.
- Build relationships with organizations that cater to persons with disabilities
- Send regular notifications of job openings
- Make personal contacts (face-to-face, phone conversations, etc.)
- Invite representatives to tour the facility, open houses, and company events
- Build relationships even when not hiring
- Tie-in to charitable giving
- Attend job fairs that target persons with disabilities
OFCCP is asking for specific outreach efforts made for each position; therefore, documentation should be thorough in preparation for an audit. OFCCP will request information regarding which organizations were contacted, the names of the persons who were contacted, and the nature of the information that was provided and exchanged. An important way for contractors and subcontractors to manage this information is to create an activity log where notes of conversations, emails, site visits, etc. are saved.
On the Horizon
On December 9th, 2011 OFCCP introduced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) Section 503 that will create new obligations for federal contractors in regard to individuals with disabilities.
This proposed rule includes the following:
- Set a hiring goal of 7% for workers with disabilities in each job group of the contractor’s workforce
- Invite applicants to voluntarily self-identify as an “individual with a disability” at the pre-offer and post-offer stage
- Keep records regarding the number of individuals with disabilities who applied for jobs and the number who were hired
- Develop and implement written procedures for processing requests for reasonable accommodations for their work environments
- Practice a minimum of three specific types of outreach and recruitment efforts to recruit individuals with disabilities, document the efforts, and maintain the records for 5 years
- List job openings with One-Stop Career Centers and other appropriate employment delivery systems
Needless to say, if these rules are passed, it would change the way contractors and subcontractors conduct business with the Federal government. Now is the time to take action. Begin building and documenting outreach efforts and hires. Ensure applicants can apply to online positions. Provide and record reasonable accommodations. And remember, if it was not documented, it did not happen.