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Rule would require federal contractors to hire more disabled workers

Posted On: Dec. 9, 2011 12:00 AM CST

WASHINGTON—The Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance has proposed a new rule under which federal contractors and subcontractors would be required to set a goal of having 7% of their workforce be people with disabilities, it said Thursday.

According to the proposal, which was published Friday in the Federal Register, contractors and subcontractors would have to reach that percentage within each of their job groups rather than within its workforce as a whole.

In the proposal, the OFCCP said it decided against setting an overall workforce goal “because of its potential for masking discrimination and segregation. For example, a contractor that has segregated all of its employees with disabilities into one or two low-paying jobs might be able to conceal this discrimination and satisfy the 7% goal if only a single whole-workforce comparison were required.”

The proposed regulation outlines the specific actions contractors would have to take in the areas of recruitment, training, record-keeping and policy discrimination, and are similar to those that have long required promoting workplace equality for women and minorities, according to the Labor Department.

“In addition, the rule would clarify OFCCP's expectations for contractors by providing specific guidance on how to comply with the law,” said the Labor Department said in the statement.

“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,” Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said in the statement, “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.”

OFCCP Director Patricia A. Shiu referred to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which obligates federal contractors and subcontractors to ensure equal employment opportunities for qualified workers with 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. 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,” Ms. Shiu said in the statement.

According to the Labor Department, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities, at 13%, is 1.5 times the rate for those without disabilities, while 79.2% of working-age individuals with disabilities are outside the labor force altogether, compared with 30.5% of those without disabilities.

Comments may be mailed to Debra Carr, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, U.S. Department of Labor, Room C-3325, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington D.C., 230210. Comments must be submitted by Feb. 7, 2012.

The OFCCP also has published proposed regulations intended to strengthen the affirmative action requirements of federal contractors and subcontractors in hiring veterans who are protected under the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974.

A DOL spokesman said in a statement that since the comment period for the proposal has ended, “the agency has been reviewing and analyzing all of the input it received. The agency is taking the time to adequately construct the best rule for championing the cause of veterans in job hiring and career advancement.”

According to the spokesman, the final rule could be issued in the spring or summer of 2012.