Under New Affirmative Action Rule, Agencies Must Hire More Disabled Workers

Federal agencies will have to adopt new plans to hire more disabled individuals and provide more assistance to them at their offices under a new rule from the agency tasked with preventing workplace discrimination. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a final rule this week spelling out “Affirmative Action for Individuals With Disabilities in Federal Employment.” The rule will both gather longstanding regulations into a single platform, ensuring they have the force and effect of the law, and give new edicts to federal agencies. EEOC also seeks, for the first time, to define what affirmative action entails for disabled individuals in the federal workforce.

All federal agencies’ must, beginning in 2018, strive to compose 12 percent of their workforces with disabled individuals, including 2 percent who have what EEOC and the Office of Personnel Management define as “targeted” disabilities. Agencies will have to take specific steps to gradually increase their employees with disabilities until they meet that goal. Each agency will be responsible for maintaining statistics and submitting them annually to EEOC. Their plans, which must be approved by the commission, will include affirmative actions for both hiring and advancement of disabled workers.

Agencies also must provide personal assistance services to employees who need such services to be at work or to participate in work-related travel. Currently, agencies must provide only services required for work-related duties. This rule will require agencies provide such additional services as assistance removing or putting on clothing, eating or using the restroom.

On the recruiting front, agencies will have to lead efforts such as implementing specialized training programs, and maintaining databases of individuals with disabilities and communication with contacts in the disabled community. The rule will also require agencies to hire staff specifically to handle disability-related issues and to ensure the application process is accessible. To ensure disabled employees can advance up the ranks, agencies must create mentoring programs, training initiatives and exit interviews that can help determine lingering shortfalls. Agencies must also create anti-harassment policies.

The new regulations will not come cheap; EEOC estimated they will cost the federal government between $23 million and $71 million.

In 2010, President Obama set the goal of hiring 100,000 disabled individuals across the federal government, resurrecting a similar pledge made during the Bill Clinton administration that went unfulfilled. In October, OPM announced the administration had exceeded that goal, hiring nearly 110,000 disabled employees between fiscal years 2011 and 2015. Full-time permanent employees with disabilities represented more than 14 percent of the overall federal workforce in fiscal 2015. 

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