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New Section 503 Rule Took Effect March 24, Expands Employment and Economic Advancement Opportunities for People with Disabilities

March 30, 2014

U.S. Department of Labor data has consistently documented the significant gap between people with and without disabilities in employment and earnings. New federal regulations that became final this month offer thousands of individuals with disabilities new opportunities to climb the economic ladder and embark on a personal pathway to greater economic advancement and financial stability.

On March 24, the final rules for Section 503 issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) went into effect. Section 503 not only prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against individuals based on disability but also requires affirmative action on their part to increase the number of people with disabilities in their workforce. The new rule for the first time establishes a 7 percent goal for federal contractors in the hiring and retention of workers with disabilities. Although not a quota or a ceiling, the Section 503 final rule sets out new affirmative obligations on federal contractors to recruit, hire and promote qualified individuals with disabilities. Contractors will be required to maintain records that compare the number of individuals with disabilities who apply for jobs with the number of individuals who are actually hired. Records must also be kept on outreach and recruitment efforts, retention and career advancement. Contractors can invite job applicants to voluntarily self-identify as having a disability at a pre-offer stage of the hiring process or post job offer, which will help contractors meet their recruitment, hiring and career advancement goals.

What are the possibilities for the future? OFCCP estimates that an additional 600,000 workers with disabilities may be hired by federal contractors to help meet Section 503 obligations. The greatest concern expressed by federal contractors is in connecting with talented people with disabilities who meet their needs.  This presents a wonderful opportunity for federal contractors, people with disabilities and people who provide workforce supports to develop creative ways to connect qualified job seekers with career opportunities

To learn more about the final Section 503 rule and to access resources, visit www.dol.gov/ofccp/503rule.