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Labor Dept. Sets 7% Hiring Goal for Disabled Workers

December 8 2011 | by

a handshake in front of a federal building

The U.S. Department of Labor has proposed a move it calls necessary for helping more people with disabilities get hired amid a dismal unemployment rate: A new rule that would require federal contractors and subcontractors to set a hiring goal of 7% for the employment of people with disabilities.

The new rule, if passed into law, would strengthen Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that obligates federal contractors and subcontractors to ensure equal employment opportunities for qualified workers with disabilities. Up until now, there has not been a clearly defined rule in place, though companies that do business with the government have to show evidence of taking proactive steps to recruit workers with disabilities.

With four out of five workers with disabilities outside of the labor force, the Labor Dept. recognizes it has some work to do, starting with laws that can be enforced for the some 200,000 businesses that work with the government, totaling around $700 billion annually.

“Taxpayer dollars are given to businesses on the legal promise they would take affirmative action to build workforces,” says Patricia Shiu, director of the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. These dollars “were not to be used to discriminate,” she says.

The 7% goal is, the Labor. Dept. says, “aspirational” in nature, and is intended to start a discussion on what the appropriate number should be, which the agency believes should fall between 4% and 10%. The Dept. of Labor is seeking comments on its proposal until February 7, 2012.

“The real compliance, the real opportunity is created by all the steps that lead to this goal,” Shiu says. That includes actions employers make to post their jobs with disability-friendly job banks, recruit qualified candidates with disabilities at job fairs and events, provide outreach, collect data, keep records and make accommodation requests.

With one-quarter of American workers employed by the federal government in contracting occupations, the rule is intended to “have a ripple effect the entire labor force,” Shiu says. That’s a tall order, as hiring for compliance isn’t the same as hiring a person with a disability based on their abilities and skills alone. Private employers are not obligated to hire disabled workers, which leaves room for discrimination and contributes to the higher unemployment rate among this group.

The good news is that there are thousands of companies that provide goods and services to the government and would be impacted, and be called upon to help the disabled workforce find jobs. They include Fortune 500s like Dell, IBM, Merck, Pfizer, FedEx, AOL, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Caterpillar, Pepsi and Procter & Gamble. A list of contractors and their contract amounts can be found at

  • Kathy Robitaille

    I hope this “forced” hiring does not back fire and cause friction as the hiring of blacks and minorities has. I’m really not in favor of this proposal.

  • kl

    Oh come on many minorities are also disabled! Disabilities such sd blinfnes, mobility impairments like soinal cord injury, hearing impairment etc do not discriminate against Latinos, African Americans, Asians or any other minority. Most will either experince a disablity in their lifetime personally or know someone who does. The disabled are the worlds largest minority group!

  • Chuzj316

    I always knew the last suffering, oppressive minority besides children would rise in the workforce, but I had no idea it would be over the able- bodied crowding food stamp lines. What happened to the idea that if you want to eat, you must work?

  • Maltin

    I think it is just fair for a developed nation to help people in disadvantage situations. Just common sense. These laws are just trying to catch up with an issue ignored for too long. Parents like me have to still come up with our own solutions, mine is

  • Blueeyes5677

    After teaching for 32 years with the special education population, with 15 of those years supervising a program in which 15 high school seniors spent two school hours rotating between job sites every six weeks throughout the school year, allowing them to work at six different job sites. Many were then were offered employment, only to be told by the parents of the student that they are not going to accept a job because it will affect their monthly SSI, I wonder how many handicap workers will job at the opportunity to work rather than recieve their “check” AND get medical benefits? Now the education government won’t count this “job program” to count towards graduation requirements. For this program to succeed many agencies will have to cooperate with each other and so does the Dept. of Labor and the Dept. of Education.

  • Suzanne Robitaille

    I agree BlueEyes. It’s a vicious cycle. Things are getting better with the Ticket to Work program, which can help Social Security beneficiaries go to work, get a good job, become financially independent, all while they keep their health coverage. It’s a slow trickle of getting off the public system with less risk. But, for people with severe disabilities who may not be able to hold down a job over the long term, it is not feasible to ask them to do this. That’s why the SSI program exists in the first place. Plus, there are so many jobs that do not offer health coverage, especially part-time jobs at places where PWDs can actually find work. So they need these health benefits, especially with a disability. The agencies DO need reform, and there needs to be a better system in place to encourage employers to give job opportunities to PWDs on more flexible terms.

  • Suzanne Robitaille

    Yes, this is my mother.

  • Andrewtoddart

    Under the SSI Rules 50% of a disabled persons earnings are deducted from their benefits after earning $85.00. This is a cruel and unfair law. Basically people in poverty are being taxed at a rate of 50%.

  • Rmak

    Does anyone know when this will be enacted ?

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