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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Department of Labor this week released an online resource guide for employers about the recruitment, hiring, and employment of individuals with disabilities. 

Although the guide, “Employment Protections Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973: 50 Years of Protecting Americans with Disabilities in the Workplace,” focuses on the law as it pertains to federal contractors it also offers best practices for private employers nationally. 

The EEOC and the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) and Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) issued the guide to explain the key roles these agencies have in the law’s enforcement, outreach, and education. The agencies work together to administer the Rehabilitation Act to ensure equal employment opportunities in the federal sector and federal contracting. 

The resource guide includes information about the Rehabilitation Act for workers and employers, where to turn for help, examples of best practices, links to relevant agency publications, and additional resources. 

Fifty years ago, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 opened doors for many qualified individuals with disabilities to enter the federal and the federal contractor workforce for the first time. The law also was the model for Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibited disability-based employment discrimination in private employment. 

The EEOC enforces Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against individuals with disabilities at work. The law also requires agencies to take significant steps to eliminate disability-related barriers to employment. 

Key sections include: 

  • Limiting disability-related questions that recruiters can ask job applicants or employees 
  • Protecting potential and current hires from having to participate in medical exams 
  • Prohibiting employers from retaliating against job applicants and employees who oppose Rehabilitation Act violations 
  • Requiring that employers — absent undue hardship — provide reasonable accommodation for known physical or mental disabilities.  
  • Protecting people with disabilities from “disparate treatment” or harassment 

OFCCP enforces Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment against individuals with disabilities.  Key provisions include: 

  • Hiring, recruiting and job application procedures 
  • Upgrading, promotions or awarding of tenure or seniority 
  • Demotion, transfer, layoffs and termination 
  • Right of return from layoffs and rehiring 
  • Job assignments, classifications and organizational structures 
  • Sick leave, leave of absence or any other leave 
  • Training (apprenticeships, conferences, professional meetings). 
  • Any other terms, conditions or privileges of employment 

The agencies also list a host of resources for HR best practices regarding people with disabilities. Notably, ODEP runs the Workforce Recruitment Program, which was mainly created for federal contractors but is available to private sector employers.