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503 Regulations for Federal Contractors

March 24, 2014, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) will implement new 503 regulations for federal contractors. Contractors with more than 100 employees will be required to set an aspirational goal to achieve a workforce inclusive of 7 percent of individuals with disabilities in each job category while businesses with fewer than 100 employees will apply that goal across their workforce as a whole.

Contractors covered under Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA) will be required to establish an 8 percent benchmark for hiring individuals defined as “protected veterans,” with the option of establishing benchmarks based on regional workforce data at each location of operation.

Across the nation, contractors are starting to implement the new requirements and utilizing resources such as the Employer Assistance and Resource Network. These new regulations are a game changer as they require a nationwide utilization goal, accountability through self-audit to measure progress and correct any discriminatory practice. It will also enable federal contractors to self-examine their employment practices and discover unintentional barriers that may be preventing people with disabilities from entering and remaining in the workforce.

Some key elements of an inclusive workplace:

1. Disability Recruitment and Community Outreach: Build relationships with key disability and veterans organizations in the community to facilitate candidate referrals; guidance on reasonable accommodations; and access to technical assistance and resources. Outreach and recruitment strategies are vitally important to contractor compliance, and will be helpful in building a successful evaluation and assessment program as part of a contractor’s overall recruitment efforts. It is imperative that contractors:
• Foster relationships by hosting open houses for representatives of community-based organizations to describe their hiring process, workplace culture, and types of positions available and qualifications of candidates sought;
• Offer a career fair or interview day to assist in targeted recruitment by inviting agencies, providers, vocational training schools, community colleges and universities-any and all entities that might have job seekers with disabilities;
• Establish a record-keeping protocol and assessment strategy for a successful recruitment program;
• Utilize internship programs as one strategy to build a talent pipeline of diverse candidates.

2. Accessibility of Websites, Online Applications and Testing: Verify that personnel processes give applicants with disabilities equal access, and in no way exclude them.
• Test websites and career pages for usability and accessibility;
• Ensure there is no adverse impact on candidates with disabilities applying for positions, or in any pre- or post-employment testing.

3. Proactive Reasonable Accommodation Processes: Develop a plan to address reasonable accommodation requests; determine which staff will have responsibility for handling and recording requests, as well as for approving and procuring accommodations.

• Consider establishing a centralized process for requests to eliminate barriers in the process, and reduce the likelihood of supervisor error in response to a request;
• Create a centralized fund for accommodations for consistent application and to reduce denial of accommodations based on local or departmental budget restraints;
• Define record keeping, approval, vendors for procurement, and evaluation of the process.

4. Inclusive Cultures and Self-Disclosure: Convey best practices on disability and inclusion that promote disability and veteran disclosure. Certain actions on the part of the employer can create a culture of greater acceptance and inclusion, thereby increasing the likelihood that an applicant or employee with a disability will disclose.
• Invite Applicants and employees to self-identify using the OFCCP mandated form, which cannot be altered;
• Invite new employees to complete the self-identification form at both the pre- and post-offer stages of employment;
• Invite self-identification of the existing workforce within the first year of the new rules implementation, and at least once every five years thereafter;
• Record information in a data analysis file, kept separately from personnel files.

5. Training and Evaluation: Institute formalized training to all employees and managers to communicate new regulatory changes and information related to compliance efforts.
• Train employees on disability awareness, workplace culture, recruitment of veterans and people with disabilities, goal setting, effectiveness and assessment, reasonable accommodations principles, self-identification considerations, performance management and supervision;
• Develop an evaluation of a company’s efforts to assess which strategies are working;
• Review efforts quarterly, semi-annually, or annually to gauge effectiveness and make the necessary adjustments or changes that will yield results.

By incorporating inclusive hiring strategies, federal contractors are in a great position to capitalize on new opportunities to expand hiring of people with disabilities and veterans, which goes beyond compliance, increases employee engagement and productivity, and creates a culture that values the contributions of all employees.

by Kathleen Lee

Kathleen Lee is the business outreach specialist at Cornell University’s National Employer Technical Assistance, Policy and Research Center on Employment of People with Disabilities

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