Effective March 24, 2014, a new rule from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs will require federal contractors and subcontractors to take additional steps to recruit, hire, and retain individuals with disabilities, including surveying employees regarding their disability status and making efforts to employ a minimum of seven percent disabled workers.

The new rule, which makes changes to the regulations implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (41 CFR Part 60-741), establishes for the first time a nationwide seven percent goal for the employment of qualified individuals with disabilities.  Federal contractors will be required to determine whether individuals with disabilities make up seven percent of each job group designated in their Executive Order 11246 affirmative action programs (AAP);  contractors with a total workforce of 100 or fewer employees have the option of applying the seven percent goal to their workforce as a whole.  Contractors that determine that their workforce falls below the seven percent benchmark will not be subject to fines or penalties, but will be required to develop action plans to improve their representation of disabled individuals.

In addition to the benchmarking provisions, the new rule requires contractors to invite job applicants to self-identify as individuals with disabilities at the pre-offer and post-offer phases of the application process using language that will be posted on the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs website. To avoid the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibition against making disability-related inquiries prior to employment, the rule requires that applicants be invited to voluntarily self-identify.  Contractors will also be required to invite employees to self-identify on a regular basis in order to identify those employees whose disability status has changed since they were hired.  In addition, the new rule requires that contractors survey their workforce regularly on an anonymous basis regarding disability status.

Contractors should be aware of new record-keeping requirements with respect to the hiring and employment of individuals with disabilities.  Pursuant to the new rule, contractors are required to retain documentation of all of their outreach and recruitment activities with respect to disabled individuals, and are also required to maintain records regarding the number of people with disabilities who apply for jobs and the number that are hired.  This information must be maintained for three years.

Although the new rule goes into effect this week, current contractors with a written AAP already in place have additional time to comply with certain aspects of the regulations.  We urge all federal contractors to review their obligations under the new rule and to educate their human resources personnel regarding its provisions.