The Obama administration is pressing forward with a plan to urge companies doing business with the federal government to dramatically increase the number of employees with disabilities in their ranks.
Under a final rule announced Tuesday, most federal contractors will be expected to ensure that people with disabilities account for at least 7 percent of workers within each job group at their companies. If businesses meet that threshold, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that it could mean as many as 585,000 jobs for people with disabilities within the first year.
“The need is clear,” said Patricia Shiu, director of the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, calling the unemployment rate for people with disabilities “unacceptably high.”
The new rule would not establish a quota, but rather a goal that contractors would be expected to work toward. Firms with at least 50 employees and $50,000 in federal commitments would have to take specific steps with regard to recruitment, training, record keeping and policy dissemination — much like they are already required to do to encourage workplace equality for women and members of minority groups — in order to increase their employment of people with disabilities.
Previously, federal law merely required that contractors make a “good faith” effort to employ those with disabilities.
“It’s time for a new approach — the same approach that business uses,” Shiu said. “What gets measured gets done.”
Contractors that fail to achieve the 7 percent goal would need to reevaluate their practices. If companies can’t provide documentation showing that they worked to meet the goal they could lose their federal contracts, Shiu said.
Many businesses had opposed the plan — which was initially proposed in 2011 — and now the HR Policy Association, which represents chief human resource officers at more than 350 major employers, says they are mulling legal action over the rule.
“Simply mandating a numerical ‘goal’ for all jobs in all contractors’ workplaces and then requiring employers to invade the privacy of applicants and employees with questions about their physical and mental condition destroys everything companies have done to integrate individuals with disabilities into the workforce in a sensitive, discreet manner,” said Daniel V. Yager, the organization’s president and general counsel.
Advocates within the disability community, however, hailed the new rule as a milestone.
“The harsh reality is that nearly eight in 10 working-age Americans with disabilities are unemployed,” said Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability. “I’m encouraged by the notion that the work of recruiting this largely untapped talent pool on a larger scale can truly begin, and I think that American industry can benefit from the considerable talents that people with disabilities possess.”
The new requirements are expected to be published in the Federal Register within the next 10 days and will take effect six months after that, officials at the Labor Department indicated.