Justice for All: Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and OFCCP

On August 2, 2018, Craig Leen, Acting Director of the OFCCP, announced there will be “focused reviews” of all federal contractors and sub-contractors in compliance with Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. This was a surprise to many at the National Industry Liaison Group’s Conference where the announcement was made by Mr. Leen in an impassioned speech. Mr. Leen knows the need for equality, with two children living with autism. So many people with autism have been shut out of the opportunity to work due to stigma and discrimination in our country. This will change with making Section 503 a real vehicle for equality in the workforce for people with disabilities.

In 2013, the Section 503 final rule was published by OFCCP under the leadership of OFCCP Director Pat Shiu. The goal was to raise the employment of people with disabilities and end discrimination in the workplace by federal contractors and subcontractors. Acting Director Craig Leen has made it clear that compliance with Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act will be a focus of OFCCP activities this coming fiscal year, beginning in October. This will change the workface of America to include all people, including those of us living with disabilities, in our great country.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month is celebrated every October, but still the needle of employment has not moved since the Americans with Disabilties Act was signed in July 1990. In 2020, it will be the thirty-year anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act by President George H.W. Bush. On that sunny day on the South Lawn of the White House he said, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion, finally come tumbling down.” It did fall in so many areas, but not in the area of employment.

With only 35% of working age Americans with Disabilities counted in the workforce and an unemployment rate of 8% for people with disabilities versus 3.8% for people without disabilities, people with disabilities face inequality in the workforce. For many people with disabilities, this means living in poverty. Disability and poverty often go hand in hand due to high unemployment. With compliance enforcement by OFCCP, this shameful wall could start tumbling down.

Even if contractors are not chosen for a review, they can expect that compliance with OFCCP’s disability discrimination and affirmative action requirements will be a focus of any compliance evaluation. Federal contractors and subcontractors will be audited on their tracking of employment outreach and what they have already done to undertake affirmative efforts to achieve the 7% aspirational employment goal – in all job categories.  They will be reviewed to see if they have adopted and implemented effective disability accommodation, accessibility, outreach, and engagement policies. Federal contractors and subcontractors should be doing annual reviews of job requirements. These practices should already be happening; I hope that for so many federal contractors and subcontractors it has become the fabric of their employment strategies and policies.

Contractors chosen for focused reviews, can expect onsite visits from an OFCCP compliance officer. OFCCP has shared that these onsite visits will include review of policies and practices related to Section 503, including hiring and compensation data and processes related to handling accommodation requests – a practice that promises to bring about lasting change for people with disabilities who have historically been marginalized. These visits will also include interviews with hiring managers, ADA coordinators, and other individuals involved in EEO and Section 503 compliance, as well as those employees affected by those policies.

As we approach the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilties Act, it is time to see real change. After all, without employment, people with disabilities will never, ever have true freedom in America. OFCCP is a vehicle that will advance, Justice for All!

For more information on what you can do as an employer to prepare for OFCCP “focused reviews” beginning in October, please visit my blog later this month.

Additional blogs on Section 503:

Contact us if you would like to discuss how Bender Consulting Services can be a part of your company’s success with disability inclusion or to review our services.

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