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Working with the Feds? Seven percent of your employees better be disabled

The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced a new proposed regulation intended to encourage most employers that contract or subcontract with the federal government to have disabled employees make up at least 7 percent of their workforce.  Employers who fail to comply could face the prospect of losing their federal contracts and being barred from bidding for future contracts until they show they are trying to meet the target. The Labor Department’s announcement has been met with considerable resistance from employers and business groups who have flooded the Department with complaints that the proposed rule amounts to a first-ever government quota for hiring disabled workers. Employers have also complained that this forced hiring would expose them to a thicket of legal pitfalls.  Some employers say there might not be enough qualified disabled workers in their field to meet the target, and that they may be forced to fire nondisabled workers to achieve the desired ration. 

Other employers point out that existing federal law actually prohibits them from asking whether a job applicant is disabled. The Labor Department counters that the effort is necessary because 79.2 percent of working-age people with functional disabilities are out of the labor force entirely, compared with 30.5 percent of those without disabilities.  Counting those who remain in the labor force, the unemployment rate for disabled people was 12.9 percent in January, as compared to 8.7 percent for non-disabled people.   

Advocates for the disabled argue that stronger regulations are necessary because decades-old laws intended to bring disabled people into the workforce simply aren’t working, and disabled workers are being consistently overlooked by employers who think they can’t do the job. If you are interested in reading the Labor Department’s new proposed regulation, you can find it here. Although the time period for public comment on the proposed regulation has now passed, the Labor Department states it is in the process of considering modifications to the regulation based on comments received.  Stay tuned to the blog for further developments.



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