EEOC Issues Regs on Federal Agencies' Affirmative Action for Disabled Workers

"These new regulations provide concrete steps and accountability mechanisms to promote employment and advancement opportunities for people with disabilities across the government," said EEOC Chair Jenny Yang.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published a new rule Jan. 3 that implements Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act and explains 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. The regulations don't impose any obligations on private businesses or state and local governments.

Section 501 requires federal agencies to create affirmative action plans for the employment of people with disabilities and to submit those plans to EEOC for approval. On May 15, 2014, EEOC published an ANPRM asking for public input on how it should revise its regulations to clarify what an affirmative action plan must include, then in February 2016 the commission proposed regulations and sought further public comment.

The agency said the final regulations reaffirm the federal government's commitment to being a model employer of people with disabilities, and the rule consolidates existing requirements from a variety of sources, such as the existing requirements that federal agencies have written reasonable accommodation procedures and seek out qualified job applicants with disabilities. The regulations set goals for federal agency workforces of 12 percent representation for individuals with disabilities and 2 percent for individuals with "targeted" disabilities, which 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.

"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 headed an internal work group that developed the regulations, said, "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."

The rule will become effective Jan. 3, 2018, and EEOC will provide agencies with training and technical assistance to support their compliance efforts.

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