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Employer Assistance & Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN): A service of The Viscardi Center.
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Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act

In August 2013, the Department of Labor published new regulations for Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA). Section 503 prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from engaging in employment discrimination against individuals with disabilities, and requires various affirmative action practices in recruitment, hiring, promotion, and retention of protected individuals. Similarly, VEVRAA prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against protected veterans with disabilities, and requires affirmative action practices. For more information about changes and additional requirements click on Section 503 and VEVRAA regulations or visit OFCCP’s Section 503 and VEVRAA FAQs.  

This fact sheet helps contractors identify valuable resources for updating their recruitment, hiring, and employment practices to comply with new regulations. Generally, contractors should aim to develop and update: (a) practices for offering voluntary disclosure invitations to current and prospective employees, (b) standards for confidentiality and maintenance of disclosure records, (c) data collection procedures aligned with the Section 503 National Utilization Goal and VEVRAA Annual Benchmarks, (d) administrative procedures for providing job vacancy information to local employment service delivery systems, (e) disclosure forms, compliance training, and procedures for providing reasonable accommodations, and (f) affirmative action strategies complying with new regulatory requirements.

Section 503 Compliance and Resources

The new regulations establish a nationwide 7% utilization goal for qualified individuals with disabilities. Contractors must apply the utilization goal to individual job groups, or to their entire workforce where the workforce is comprised of 100 or fewer employees.

The new regulations require “appropriate outreach and positive recruitment activities,” and provide examples of effective outreach practices which may be utilized by contractors. These include community resource linkages which may be formal or informal partnerships between employers and organizations that provide employment services or candidate referral for special emphasis hiring programs. Community linkages are outcome-based relationships which facilitate employers’ abilities to diversify their workforce. Development of substantive community partnerships can be essential, and employers seeking community linkage resources can visit the OFCCP’s Linkage Directory, as well as the Employer Assistance and Resource Network's (EARN) Community Resource Linkages reference page. EARN provides an array of services aimed at helping employers recruit, retain, and advance employees with disabilities, including phone or online consultation and technical assistance, on-site employer training, and the Workforce Recruitment Program, which (in association with the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy), connects employers to a database of over 2,000 pre-screened, qualified college students and recent graduates with disabilities seeking summer internships or permanent employment.

Federal contractors must invite applicants to self-identify as individuals with disabilities during the pre- and post-offer phases of the application process, using a form forthcoming on the OFCCP website. Helpful information about self-identification compliance, confidentiality, and more can be found at OFCCP’s Self-Identification Resources page. 

To address contractor concerns that pre-offer invitations to self-identify may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act’s proscription of pre-employment inquiries, OFCCP published a letter from the EEOC’s Office of Legal Counsel affirming its position that pre-offer invitations to self-identify do not violate the ADA or accompanying regulations. OFCCP will also provide sample invitations which should assuage contractors’ fears and provide a compliant model for self-identification invitations, forthcoming on the OFCCP website.

The new Section 503 regulations add new affirmative action obligations and offer additional guidance for the provision of reasonable accommodations by federal contractors. OFCCP offers guidance and resources for the provision of reasonable accommodations in the workplace and “productivity tools” with information on reasonable accommodation “strategies that work,” Low Cost/High Impact and Cost-Benefit best practices, and links to national Job Accommodation Network (JAN) resources, such as the Searchable Job Accommodation Resource. JAN offers free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues, aiming to help people with disabilities enhance their employability, while assisting employers as they seek to capitalize on the value and talent that people with disabilities add to the workplace. JAN services include a consultant hotline, connection to federal, state, and local resources, and accommodation ideas by disability, occupation, product or service, and topic.

            The new Section 503 and VEVRAA regulations also provide additional data collection requirements for contractors, who must record several Quantitative Comparisons for the numbers of individuals with disabilities who apply for jobs and are hired by the contractor, as a means to measuring the effectiveness of outreach and recruitment efforts. Contractors are now also required to include the Equal Opportunity Clause language into any subcontract, alerting subcontractors to their responsibilities.

A number of additional resources aim to help employers comply with and benefit from this federal law. For example, employers who hire people with disabilities usually qualify for tax incentives to help cover accommodation and accessibility costs for both employees and customers with disabilities. General information on federal tax subsidies and other forms of funding connected to employing individuals with disabilities can be found at OFFCP’s website. For helpful tips on federal contractor compliance, visit the AskEarn Reference Desk. For information and resources on small business practices for hiring and recruiting people with disabilities, visit the Small Business Administration’s human resources technical assistance page.

For useful advice regarding development of inclusive workplace environments and personnel processes, successful reasonable accommodations strategies, diverse talent pipelines, and more, employers may consult the Office of Disability Employment Policy’s (ODEP) “Business Strategies That Work” document, available here. ODEP also offers a Return-to-Work Toolkit, which helps employers understand the return-to-work process for employees with disabilities, and provides resources to assist in getting employees back on the job quickly and smoothly. Effective return-to-work approaches help employees work while recuperating, simultaneously protecting the employee’s employment status while maintaining an organization’s output and preventing turnover.

Page last updated on Thursday, January 16, 2014