Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to join the White House’s monthly call with business and community leaders, grassroots advocates, researchers, policy makers, friends, family members and workers from the disability community. During the call, I spoke to nearly 750 participants about the important work we are doing at the U.S. Department of Labor to improve employment for people with disabilities.
As the Director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, I have the responsibility of enforcing the civil rights of nearly one quarter of all workers in our country. My agency protects workers, promotes diversity and enforces the laws which require any company that does business with the federal government – contractors and subcontractors – to take affirmative action in employment and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, religion, disability or status as a protected veteran.
One of the laws we enforce is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which requires contractors to make “good faith” efforts to recruit, hire, promote, and fairly compensate people with disabilities, including many of our honored veterans who are returning from battle with service-related disabilities.
Good faith isn’t cutting it.
Even though the Rehab Act has been on the books for 38 years, the percentage of people with disabilities who are unemployed – or not even in the labor force – is incredibly high. According to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 20.6% of people with disabilities were in the labor force in April, compared to almost 70% of people without disabilities.
So, we at OFCCP are going to take some affirmative action of our own. A year ago, we asked the public to give us ideas on how we could strengthen our regulations and update the Rehab Act so that it reflects the realities, the challenges and the opportunities of the modern workforce. We asked for input on a wide array of issues such as effective employment practices, data that could be used to establish hiring goals and ways to link federal contractors with organizations that seek to employ people with disabilities. Our goal is to provide a clear definition of what good faith means, not only for the benefit of workers, but also for employers who just want clarity on how to comply with the law.
This summer, we will propose new rules shaped by everything we heard from our stakeholders. Because it’s still being finalized, I can’t say much more right now, except that I’m excited about the potential of what we can do through this rulemaking process. At the end of the day, we want the law to fulfill its intended purpose: to open doors of opportunity for people with disabilities so that the reach for good jobs is truly within the grasp of everyone.
For more information about OFCCP, instructions on how to file a discrimination complaint or to be added to the agency’s mailing list, please go to www.dol.gov/ofccp.