As of March 24, 2014, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) implemented the Final Rule on Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Some say this is a “game changer” for increasing opportunities for individuals with disabilities to get back into and remain in the workforce. With all of the hype surrounding the revisions, you might be wondering, “what does it all mean?”
After several webinars, trainings, and article research, here is what I can tell you about Section 503 and what it means for you as an individual with a disability.
What is Section 503?
Under Section 503, businesses with at least 50 employees and $50,000 or more in federal contracts must take affirmative action to increase the number of people with disabilities that they employ.
The Final Rule encourages federal contractors and subcontractors to have at least 7% of positions in each job category held by qualified individuals with disabilities. This means that contractors will apply this 7% goal to each job category and if the contractor has 100 or fewer employees, the 7% goal will apply to the entire workforce.
What does this mean?
In order to achieve the Section 503 goal of hiring 7% of positions by individuals with disabilities, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) estimates that Federal contractors would need to hire an additional 594,580 individuals with disabilities.
How will employers do this?
One way federal contractors will be able to meet the 7% utilization goal is by encouraging applicants and current employees to disclose that they are an individual with a disability.
Formerly, employers were prohibited from making disability-related inquiries prior to an employment offer under the Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, Section 503 allows the employer to invite applicants to voluntarily self-identify as having a disability. The 503 Final Rule requires that contractors offer applicants the opportunity to self-identify as individuals with disabilities (IWDs) at both the pre- and post-offer stages of the application process.
However, contractors MUST use language prescribed by OFCCP. On online job postings, this voluntary self-identification section must be included with the race/gender information request.