Employers with federal contracts valued at more than $50,000 or those with at least 50 employees face new compliance regulations designed to increase the number of disabled people and veterans in the workforce.
Increasing job opportunities for vets and those with disabilities has been a priority for President Obama and his labor department. Regulations adopted last fall go into effect this week that require federal contractors to ask their workers if they have disabilities. Once all have responded, the contractors have to figure out what percentage of their workforce self-reports as disabled.
The government “target” is 7 percent. Those that don’t meet it then need to develop a plan for increasing the number of disabled workers.
The DOL has a similar process to increase the number of vets in the contractor workforce.
The department has been careful to call the 7 percent target a goal, not a mandate. However, companies that don’t make the effort to increase the percentage toward 7 percent could face penalties, including the loss of a contract.
Individuals with disabilities had an unemployment rate of 14.3 percent in February, nearly twice that of the nondisabled population.
Employers and conservatives in Congress opposed the rules on grounds that 7 percent is well above the average number of disabled workers in the general workforce, and that it would be a cost-burden to try to achieve the goal.
Also, they argued that workers responding to the required survey might be reluctant to self-report as disabled, the result being that they would be attempting to achieve a rate that might already exist.
The DOL issued the regulations anyway.
Still, the rules have worried contractors. The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, forbids companies to gather information on a worker’s disability status, because the disclosures could lead to discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has made an exception so that federal contractors can comply with the new rules.
The ADA definition of a disability was expanded in 2008 to include conditions such as cancer, diabetes, major depression, epilepsy and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Under that broader definition, many large companies may already meet or surpass the 7 percent target.