EEOC proposes new affirmative action rules for federal agencies

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Federal Employment Opportunities

The Obama Administration proposed new regulations February 23, detailing a variety of steps and reporting requirements that federal agencies must complete in taking affirmative action to hire more employees with disabilities.

In doing so, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is setting a goal that 12 percent of the federal workforce consist of people with disabilities, coupled with a 2 percent requirement for people with more severe, or “targeted,” disabilities.

“The federal government has a special responsibility to lead by example in serving as a model employer for people with disabilities in the workforce,” EEOC Chair Jenny Yang said in a news release. “This proposal offers concrete steps and accountability mechanisms to promote employment and advancement opportunities for people with disabilities, including individuals with targeted or severe disabilities.”

Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, passed by Congress in 1973, both prohibited disability discrimination and ordered federal agencies to set disability-related affirmative action  policies. The affirmative action requirements, however, were largely ambiguous, although both President Clinton and President Obama issued executive orders setting five-year-goals of hiring 100,000 new workers with disabilities.

The Department of Labor, pursuant to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, finalized extensive affirmation goals for federal contractors in 2013, which were upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia the following year. These rules set a hiring goal that 7 percent of workers have disabilities, including a 2 percent goal for targeted disabilities.

The EEOC’s rules, largely modeled on the DOL’s, pertain specifically to federal agencies. The new proposal replaces the previous policy of allowing individual agencies to set their own hiring goals, setting one overall goal for the federal government.

The EEOC specifies that agencies must work to meet the hiring goal at all levels of government, thus breaking the trend of employees with disabilities being concentrated in the lower ranks.

To meet the goal, agencies must create a detailed process for how people with disabilities can voluntarily self-identify, as not to conflict with already existing strict laws around what employers can ask during the application process. Each agency must submit an annual Affirmative Action Plan to the EEOC.

“Although federal agencies have improved their efforts to hire and retain individuals with disabilities, they remain underrepresented in the federal workforce,” the EEOC wrote in a Q&A accompanying the regulations. “The proposed rule would clarify, in a single rule, what federal agencies must do to engage in affirmative action as required under Section 501.”

The public has until April 25 to submit comments.