The Department of Labor is set to enforce a new hiring mandate requiring that 7 percent of its workforce be composed of workers with disabilities, in addition to other criteria. The rule is intended to strengthen affirmative action imperatives from the early ‘70s (Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) aimed at offering equal employment opportunities from federal contractors. The changes focus on the list of actions a contractor must take when recruiting, training, and disseminating policy and mirror the actions required in promoting workplace equality for women and minorities.
The changes are a response to the rising unemployment rate of people with disabilities; currently resting at 13 percent. Furthermore, data recently published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal that 79.2 percent of working-age persons with disabilities are altogether removed from the labor force; over 2.5 times the 30.5 percent rate of workers without disabilities. The hiring practices of federal contractors for the past few decades seem to reveal a lack of real effort to hire workers with disabilities and current regulations seem not to be working enough to motivate contracted employers.
It is believed that through the creation of the 7 percent employment goal, contractors may more easily gauge their compliance with affirmative action requirements and allow their policies to reflect this knowledge. In addition, the rule intensifies record-keeping requirements in an attempt to establish a higher degree of transparency and accountability when documenting and responding to requests for special accommodation. Contractors also must publically list job openings and annually analyze recruitment efforts to ensure conformity with the new rule.