Web News Article #: 2-2017
01/06/2017 – The Rehabilitation Act is a federal civil rights law that prohibits federal agencies, including the United States Postal Service from discriminating against job applicants and employees based on disability. This week the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published new regulations explaining what federal agencies must do to comply with their legal obligation to engage in affirmative action in employment and otherwise serve as “model employers” for individuals with disabilities. EEOC also published a series of question-and-answers addressing the revisions.
Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to create affirmative action plans for the employment of people with disabilities, and to submit those plans to EEOC for approval. Prior to the changes, the statute neither defined the term “affirmative action” nor provided detailed standards to determine whether an employer met the requirement.
Before finalizing the new rules, the EEOC published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) asking for public input on how it should revise its regulations to clarify what an affirmative action plan must include. The Commission later proposed regulations based on the input it received, and sought further public comment on their proposals in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
The final regulations reaffirm the federal government’s commitment to being a model employer of people with disabilities. The rule consolidates existing obligations from a variety of sources, such as current mandates for federal agencies to have written reasonable accommodation procedures and to seek qualified job applicants with disabilities. The regulations also include new representation goals for employees with disabilities in the federal workforce and enhanced support requirements that will enable more persons with disabilities to seek federal employment.
“We applaud the EEOC for taking steps to strengthen anti-discrimination laws and create more meaningful employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities”, stated Sue Carney, Human Relations Director. “We are hopeful the legal clarification will compel Postal officials to be more compliant in meeting their obligations. We look forward to the USPS making appropriate accommodations that aid injured workers in performing their duties, and embrace the opportunity to welcome more disabled veterans and people with disabilities into our workforce,” continued Carney.
The regulations set goals for federal agency workforces of 12 percent representation for individuals with disabilities and 2 percent for individuals with “targeted” disabilities. Targeted disabilities are defined as disabilities that the government has, for several decades, emphasized in hiring because they pose the greatest barriers to employment, such as blindness, deafness, paralysis, convulsive disorders, and mental illnesses, among others. The goals apply at both higher and lower levels of federal employment.
The regulations also require federal agencies to provide personal assistance services to employees who need them to perform basic human activities at work, such as eating and using the restroom. These services will allow individuals with significant disabilities to enjoy the opportunity and independence of paid employment, which may reduce the amount of taxpayer funds spent on public disability benefits.
“Increasing employment rates for individuals with disabilities is a national priority for the federal government,” said EEOC Chair Jenny Yang. “These new regulations provide concrete steps and accountability mechanisms to promote employment and advancement opportunities for people with disabilities across the government. The federal government is committed to leading by example and creating a workplace where people with disabilities can thrive.” Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum, who led an internal work group that developed the regulations, added, “Too many people with disabilities who have the skills and the desire to work remain unemployed or underemployed. These regulations create new opportunities for people with disabilities to achieve the satisfaction and economic self-sufficiency that comes with employment, particularly by setting employment goals for people with targeted disabilities and providing personal assistance services to those who need them in the workplace.”
To give agencies sufficient time to come into compliance, the rule will become effective on Jan. 3, 2018. EEOC also will provide agencies with training and technical assistance to support their compliance efforts.
EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. You can stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to their email updates.