HOUSTON (August 29, 2013) -- Contractors who bid on federal contracts funded by taxpayer dollars will have to step up their efforts to recruit workers with disabilities, under a new policy announced by Vice President Joe Biden. According to the Associated Press, federal contractors currently employ about 1 in every 5 U.S. workers.
Contractors will have to set a goal of employing people with disabilities as 7 percent of their workforce and track their progress in meeting the goal. The new policy, along with changes in veterans hiring, was announced by Vice President Joe Biden while addressing the American Legion convention here.
Established by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the new policy marks the first time the federal government has set a specific hiring goal for people with disabilities, and follows earlier requirements for minorities and women. While the new goal is not now enforceable, it will require contractors to recruit and track their progress in hiring disabled workers when they bid on federal contracts.
"In a competitive job market, employers need access to the best possible employees," said Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. "These rules make it easier for employers to tap into a large, diverse pool of qualified candidates."
Disability groups that have monitored the issue cheered the policy change as a step forward.
Barbara Otto, CEO of Health & Disability Advocates, which manages Think Beyond the Label, said in a blog that her group had requested a 10 percent goal, but was satisfied with 7 percent.
"For far too long, businesses have publicly stated their interest in hiring people with disabilities, but for a variety of reasons they have not acted on that interest," Otto said. "This ruling will provide further incentives for businesses to hire, and with proper guidance and enforcement, will facilitate the increased employment of qualified workers with disabilities.
"This is a great day for those who worked hard to advocate for stronger employment opportunities for people with disabilities," she said.
The National Organization on Disability said the new policy would elevate the "employment of people with disabilities – the nation’s largest minority group," in a statement from its president, Carol Glazer.
“I feel confident in saying that the hurdles for employers will not be a difficult threshold," Glazer said. "And there are many organizations in the disability field who stand prepared to help companies meet these goals."
The new rule, which amends the Rehabilitation Act of 1972, will take effect 180 days after publication in the Federal Register. Specifically it will require federal contractors and subcontractors to:
Establish the 7 percent goal in each of their job groups or, if they have fewer than 100 employess, their entire workforce. If they fall short of the goal during annual review, they will have to establish "specific action-oriented programs" to redress problems
Document the number of disabled workers who apply for jobs and who they hire
Invite job applicants to self-identify any disabilities
- Allow access to their records by the DOL to check for compliance