The 1992 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Act”) expanded the rights of federal employees with disabilities. As a result, the federal government is now subject to many of the requirements already established by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 for the private sector. Congress intended the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, to sweep away the judicial confusion regarding the federal government’s obligations to disabled individuals. Broadly, the Act prohibits the federal government from employment discrimination based on disability and states loftily that the federal government “shall be a model employer of individuals with disabilities.” Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act; see also 29 C.F.R §1614.203(a). Regrettably, the Act neglects to explain what federal agencies must do to comply with this obligation.
Hence, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently began soliciting comments from the public on what precisely it means to be a model employer under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act. The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is available at https://www.federalregister.gov/a/2014-11233, and the deadline to submit a response is 5:00 p.m. EDT on Monday, July 14, 2014.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “model” as a “system or thing used as an example to follow or imitate[.]” This is a high standard, and it follows that the revised regulations should tell us something about what society’s best expectations ought to be for the employer.
Different states have begun work on accomplishing this task. Ideas include instituting education and awareness training for supervisors, managers, and other decision makers; targeted recruitment and proactive outreach efforts to better inform the disability community of federal government opportunities; establishing internship programs; partnering with community-based organizations that serve disabled individuals to expand its recruitment pool; improving the accessibility of the employment application and hiring process for job seekers with a wide range of learning styles; and enhancing access to reasonable accommodations. For more information, go to http://www.dol.gov/odep/categories/workforce/NTAR_Issue_Brief_5_States_Model_Employers.pdf.
Reasonable accommodation is a frequent issue in legal disputes. Many claims against employers consist of inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and lack of clarity during the interactive process that should follow a request for accommodation. If the Agency sets up an oversight system that provides feedback to deciding officials (e.g., supervisors and managers), then there is room to grow. A yearly report
ing of management’s reasonable accommodation decisions, along with an explanation for each decision, and a chronicle of what was accomplished could provide valuable data regarding what measures are effective.
The EEOC already has received 17 comments.
Whatever direction it takes, clearing up the ambiguity surrounding the government’s “model employer” obligations under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act is critical. Currently, federal agencies are not leaders on employment rights for disabled individuals. You can help by submitting your ideas to the EEOC. More information is available at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/5-15-14.cfm.
Written by Nina Ren