What is Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and how could it affect your business?

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According to a Disability Status Report from Cornell University, in 2012 the employment rate for people with disabilities was only 33.5% compared to an employment rate of 76.3% for people without disabilities. Even though the opportunities for adults with disabilities in the workforce have increased in recent years, there are still many improvements to be made.

In March 2014, new rules for Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act became effective, holding federal contractors and subcontractors accountable for hiring people with disabilities. These new goals impacted quite a few businesses, and even though you many not be directly affected, it’s good to know where disability legislation is headed for in the future. So how do you comply with Section 503? Keep reading to find out what you can do to get your business up to speed!

As a federal contractor or subcontractor, if the contract is over $10,000, there must be a plan in place to recruit, employ and retain at least 7% of that workforce with people with disabilities, either within a certain job group or in your overall business if you have less than 100 employees. This is an aspirational goal for businesses right now, but it’s being monitored more than ever before. Although you will not be fined (yet!) if you do not hit this goal, it’s safe to say that contractors that move forward towards 7% will be thought of more often than those who do not.

In addition to the 7% aspirational goal, contractors must also allow an employment candidate to self-identify as a person with a disability. This includes encouraging current employees to share that they may be facing a new disability in the workforce. By positively identifying disabilities within a business, employers can not only track their aspirational goal of 7%, they can be aware of new retention and employment plans to keep current employees happy and on track.

New to Section 503 is the requirement that all applications must be saved and tracked for at least three years. At any time, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs could request all employment information, to “check-in” on a company’s motion toward their aspirational goal. It’s a good idea to have appropriate tracking methods in place already for various HR reasons, but tightening those procedures will be necessary to comply with Section 503.

If you have additional questions about what has changed in recent years, here is a link to side-by-side look at previous legislation versus the new Section 503 Regulations. Even if Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act doesn’t directly affect you, it’s a good idea to be in-the-know about new policies and how society is shifting it’s thoughts on people with disabilities in the workforce. It’s only a matter of time before these changes could be a mainstream reality for everyone.

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