Why 7% of your workforce needs to have a disability

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While February employment figures for Americans with disabilities were in decline, advocates for the sector are hoping new Department of Labor rules will instigate historical change. The revised Rehabilitation Act, which kicked in this week, means HR will have to record the proportion of those with disabilities in their workforces if the company is looking to gain federal government contracts.

From now on, all federal contractors and subcontractors must have at least 7 per cent of each job group in their workforce as qualified people with disabilities. The changes are part of a revised Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which has always required federal contractors to hire those with disabilities, but never set specific benchmarks before.

“While it never received the attention that came with the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) nearly a quarter century ago, the rule changes that go into effect today have the potential for far greater impact and scale than even the ADA in terms of employment,” says National Organization on Disability president Carol Glazer. “The rules emphasize action and call for employers to track the numbers of applicants and actual hires of veterans and people with disabilities, assess their practices, and make improvements if they don’t meet the goals.”

Section 503 requirements at a glance:
  • Employers must document both the number of individuals with disabilities that apply for jobs and the number that ends up being hired
  • Employers must set a goal of 7% individuals with disabilities across each of their job groups, or across their entire workforce for those with 100 or fewer employees
  • Every five years, employers must re-assess their workforce to identify individuals with disabilities
However, the rule has not gone without controversy: on Friday, just two business days before the rule was intended to become effective, the US District Court for the District of Columbia reached a decision to affirm the regulations after they were challenged by Associated Builders & Contractors, Inc., a trade association for construction-industry companies. The association claimed the rule was arbitrary and capricious, and that the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs had exceeded its authority. However, the court rejected the arguments and affirmed the regulation.

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