• The Implications for Career Services of OFCCP’s Changes to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
    January 22, 2014

    New changes to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 have implications for the hiring and employment of people with disabilities.

    Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is focused on employment and has remained relatively unchanged for 40 years. This section applies to private-sector companies that have $10,000 or more in contracts with any federal agency and is overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance and Policy (OFCCP).

    “Historically, there has only been slight encouragement of employers to hire people with disabilities by requiring a demonstration of best efforts to hire from this population,” explains Alan Muir, executive director and co-founder of Career Opportunities for Students With Disabilities (COSD). “There were no quotas or targets in the regulation that through non-compliance would endanger the continuance or renewal of a company’s federal contract.”

    As of late September, the changes to Section 503 Regulations now require a nationwide aspirational goal of the work force to have 7 percent representation of qualified individuals with disabilities (current employees, applicants, and new hires). A grace period until March 24, 2014, is intended to allow companies to develop and submit plans for outreach and compliance.

    “It is still unclear as to when the regulation will be fully in force, but the latest estimates are that an additional 12 to 18 months will be required to fully implement the regulation with all employers completing their plans and submitting their first round of results,” Muir says. “Once the regulation is fully in force, the penalty for non-compliance will be fully revealed; presumably it will consist of a series of fines with the ultimate penalty of cancellation or non-renewal of federal contracts for that company.”

    Muir points out that for employers with more than 100 employees, the 7 percent goal applies to broad job categories within the company. For employers with fewer than 100 employees, the 7 percent applies to the entire work force within that company.

    There is a series of compliance requirements to show the company’s progress toward attainment or surpassing of the 7 percent goal including outreach efforts and internal identification of existing employees with disabilities. For example, employers will be required to invite current employees to disclose a disability they may not have previously disclosed in order to be counted toward the 7 percent goal.

    “This invitation to disclose a disability will be provided to all employees within the company whether they have requested accommodations or not,” Muir explains. “Applicants with disabilities, including college students and recent graduates, will be invited to disclose in advance of the interview, on the application or at other opportunities, such as post-offer. This information will be used to track applicants with disabilities through the recruiting, employment decision and hiring phases.”

    For career services, Muir says that as employers continue to adjust their recruiting strategies, ramp up their disability inclusive diversity efforts, and identify existing and new sources of talent, they will look to their target schools and selected other institutions to identify candidates with disabilities.

    “Over the next year or so, employers will become increasingly attuned to the change in Section 503, as it is a federal mandate and directly affects their level of success in obtaining and maintaining any federal contract,” he says. “This imperative will be transmitted to the recruiters and we should expect recruiters will be asking about options of meeting with potential candidates with disabilities.”

    Muir says that career services offices can distinguish themselves by being very open in their willingness to assist employers.

    “Having a career services staff member familiar with the implications of this regulation change will be extremely helpful to the employer to feel confident that this career services office will be involved and willing to be a resource during this early stage of implementation,” he notes.

    Career services will also need to collaborate with the disability services office on their campus, Muir says. Students with disabilities referred to career services will be looking for accurate information about what opportunities are available with many companies due to the changes in Section 503 and will be seeking counseling from career services professionals on their options for disclosure of their disability, he points out. Additionally, there will be greater encouragement of students and recent graduates with disabilities to pursue career opportunities with these companies that have government contracts, as there is a large incentive for these companies to be recruiting these candidates.

    “Career services will need to consult more closely with disability services on specific disability issues as they relate to employment and Section 503,” Muir notes. “Disclosure of a disability is the biggest single change in counseling strategies. Since the passage of the ADA, there was no compulsion for a candidate to disclose a disability unless they required a reasonable workplace accommodation to perform the essential functions of the job.”

    Muir explains that college students had been taught and further counseled that disclosure is completely voluntary and if disclosure becomes necessary, it should be made in highly selective points in an interview or other workplace setting that would most benefit the candidate. The most usual occasion was post-offer, pre-acceptance for someone with a non-apparent disability, and only if the candidate needs to obtain a reasonable accommodation.

    “With the regulation change,” he says, “the view of disclosure and its benefits have also changed. While still voluntary for applicants to disclose, now it is deemed beneficial and advantageous for candidates to disclose early in the process in order to be considered by employers striving to attain or maintain compliance.”

    Here are several resources that address OFCCP’s changes to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973: