By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer
U.S. businesses need to tighten their disability discrimination defenses in light of announced U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) plans to plans to tighten regulatory protections for and step up enforcement of laws protecting disabled veterans and other disabled employees.
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis on December 7, 2009 announced plans to revise and tighten regulations implementing the disability discrimination provisions of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, as amended (VEVRAA) as part of the DOL Regulatory Agenda for the upcoming year. These laws require Federal contractors to take affirmative action to employ individuals with disabilities and disabled veterans. Both laws are enforced by the Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) and generally apply to federal government contractors and subcontractors.
In furtherance of these goals, OFCCP recently published:
- An Advance Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) concerning “The Evaluation of Recruitment and Placement Results under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, (Section 503).” (ANPRM); and
- The Evaluation of Recruitment and Placement Results under the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, as amended (VEVRAA) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).
In preparation for these regulatory changes, the OFCCP will be inviting public comment proposals to tighten these affirmative action requirements, holding town hall meetings, and inviting other input.
SECTION 503 ANPRM
As part of the ANPRM concerning disability discrimination in violation of Section 503, OFCCPE is compiling research and information barriers to employment that individuals with disabilities face. Toward that end, it plans to review data that may be used for establishing numerical goals. The agency plans to conduct several Town Hall meetings through Spring 2010. The ANPRM will invite the public to comment on ways to improve employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The ANPRM will seek comments on issues such as:
- How affirmative action requirements can be strengthened so that employment opportunities for people with disabilities are measurably increased;
- How federal contractors and subcontractors can improve monitoring of their employment practices to identify barriers to the employment of individuals with disabilities and improve employment opportunities; and
- What specific employment practices have been verifiably effective in the recruitment.
Concurrently, the VEVRRA NPRM is targeted at supporting the successful transition of servicemen and women into the civilian workforce, especially disabled veterans and those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. OFCCP plans to design the proposed VEVRRA regulation to:
- Increase employment opportunities for protected veterans with federal contractors and subcontractors; and
- Strengthen affirmative action requirements so that federal contractors and subcontractors will be required to increase monitoring of employment practices in order to improve recruitment, hiring, training and other employment opportunities for veterans.
EMPLOYER STRATEGIES FOR MITIGATING DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION EXPOSURES
The OFCCP’s announcement of plans to seek to tighten affirmative action protections for veterans and other employees with disabilities reflects the heightened emphasis that the OFCCP and other federal agencies are placing the enactment and enforcement of protections for persons with disabilities under the Obama Administration.
Following on the heels of Congress’ recent expansion of the availability of the employment disability discrimination protections of the Americans With Disabilities Act and new genetic information nondiscrimination requirements under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, the OFCCP’s plans to tighten existing OFCCP affirmative action requirements for persons with disabilities reflect the heightened disability discrimination risks for employers.
U.S. businesses concerned about these developments may wish to pursue a variety of steps to help mitigate their risks. For instance, government contractors and other employers may wish to consider:
- Broadening efforts to recruit persons with disabilities where appropriate and document these efforts
- Auditing existing employment, recruitment and other policies and practices for compliance with these evolving federal requirements concerning the employment rights of persons with disabilities;
- Conducting well-documented training and other activities that demonstrate your company’s commitment/openness to the employment of veterans and others with disabilities;
- Promptly conducting well-documented investigations into claims and other events that might suggest possible prohibited employment discrimination against persons with disabilities;
- Monitoring OFCCP, EEOC and other regulatory and enforcement activities for the proposal or enactment of new requirements or enforcement positions;
- Submitting comments or providing other input to federal regulators and legislators regarding regulations or legislation that might be of concern before it is enacted, where appropriate; and
- Reviewing and tightening disability discrimination reporting and investigation procedures; and
- Evaluating the adequacy of your company’s existing employment practices and other liability insurance in light of expanding liability exposures.
If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to these or other employment, health or other employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance or other concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation and employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 20 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly. For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.
Other Information & Resources
We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here. Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:
©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.