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In recent months the federal government has announced a number of initiatives designed to increase the employment of individuals with disabilities in both the private and government sectors.  These measures send a clear message to employers: audit your practices now to ensure adequate outreach and accessibility to the disabled.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently heard testimony, on March 15, 2011, on the employment of persons with mental disabilities.  The EEOC believes this group continues to experience significant barriers to employment.  And, of course, there is the very notable recent publication of the final regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act, which are discussed in more depth in a separate article.

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), has also been focused on the employment of persons with disabilities.  Since 2010 a number of OFCCP initiatives have placed increased scrutiny on whether and how federal contractors employ disabled persons.  These initiatives include the announcement of new audit priorities that focus on disabled persons, and a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to strengthen the regulations implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which helps people with disabilities obtain and keep employment.  The OFCCP has also created a website of its own to promote awareness of disability issues to the general public.  This follows the OFCCP’s earlier guidance directing that employer’s online application systems must be made accessible to persons with disabilities.

In early March, the DOL posted an online “toolkit” of resources to help federal agencies become model employers of persons with disabilities.  The toolkit helps implement Executive Order 13548, which was signed by President Obama in 2010 to increase the federal employment of disabled persons.  Federal agencies have until April 11, 2011 to submit hiring plans under the Order for increasing the employment of people with disabilities.

In February of this year, a new website was launched by the Employer Assistance and Resource Network (“EARN”).  Called “Ask,” the website assists employers with “recruiting, hiring, retaining and advancing qualified individuals with disabilities.” EARN is part of the National Employer Technical Assistance, Policy, and Research Center at Cornell University, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). The website links employers to several resources, including a Workforce Recruitment Program, a job-matching database of prescreened applicants, a monthly newsletter and an online reference desk.

The writing is on the wall for increased enforcement activity under the federal disability laws.    Now is the time to audit employment practices, such as:

  • application processes, for accessibility to disabled persons, including online systems
  • targeted outreach to recruit disabled candidates
  • review of job descriptions, for business necessity of requirements
  • EEO policies, to ensure they include, and are accessible, to the disabled
  • reasonable accommodations, including an interactive dialogue with employees,
  • maintenance and retention of separate, confidential medical files