Section 501 Info Center
As the nation’s largest employer, the Federal Government has committed itself to modeling effective employment policies and practices that advance America’s ideal of opportunity for all. This is the spirit underpinning Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against qualified people with disabilities in employment and requires them to take proactive steps to recruit and retain them. Recently, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued updates strengthening Section 501, and EARN is pleased to partner with EEOC to help federal agencies understand and achieve their goals under them.
Get the Basics
Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act is a federal civil rights law that prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against job applicants and employees based on disability, and requires agencies to engage in affirmative action for individuals with disabilities.
The final rule says that agencies of the federal government must adopt employment goals for individuals with disabilities, with sub-goals for individuals with targeted disabilities, provide personal assistance services to certain employees who need them because of a disability, and meet a number of other requirements designed to improve the recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement of individuals with disabilities in the federal workforce.
Section 501 requires federal agencies to engage in affirmative action for people with disabilities, but does not explain what “affirmative action” means. The Commission determined that stronger regulations were needed to enhance the employment, retention and promotion of qualified individuals with disabilities in the federal government. The final rule gathers together existing requirements from several Executive Orders as well as EEOC directives and other EEOC guidance documents, and adds new requirements that will further improve federal employment of individuals with disabilities and individuals with “targeted disabilities.”
The rule requires each federal agency to adopt the goal of having 12% of its workforce be people with disabilities, and 2% of its workforce be people with targeted disabilities. These goals apply at both higher and lower grades.
Personal assistance services are services that help someone perform basic activities like eating and using the restroom. They are not the same as services that help the individual perform job-related tasks, such as sign language interpreters for individuals who are deaf or readers for individuals who are blind or have learning disabilities. These services are already required as reasonable accommodations under the part of Section 501 that prohibits discrimination based on disability, as long as the provision of such services does not impose an undue hardship.
Federal Government as a Model Employer: Understanding Changes to Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act
Guides from EARN
The following EARN guides offer information on three leading strategies federal agencies are using to achieve disability inclusion and achieve their goals under Section 501: self-identification, partnerships and centralized accommodation funds.