Section 503: Important Facts for Federal Contractors

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Does your company or organization do business with the federal government? If so, you should be aware of changes to an important federal law that affects federal government contractors or sub-contractors. Section 503, part of legislation that addresses employment rights of people with disabilities, is being refreshed and those changes may affect you.

What is Section 503?

Section 503 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a federal law which expanded research and training programs for people with disabilities and prohibited discrimination based on disability. Section 503 of the law specifically addresses federal contractors and requires they use affirmative action to actively hire people with disabilities. This law applies to any federal contract (or sub-contract) worth at least $10,000. Enforcement can be from complaints by individuals with disabilities or through compliance audits by the Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

Section 503 Refresh

The US Department of Labor announced that it is strengthening requirements in Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that regulate the employment of individuals with disabilities. The unemployment rate for those with disabilities is more than twice the rate of those without disabilities (14.7 percent vs. 7.4 percent). These changes are scheduled to go into effect on March 24, 2014.

Summary of Changes:

  • Aspirational goal of 7% representation of employees with disabilities within each job group of workforce or within its overall workforce.
  • Contractors with more than 100 employees will apply this goal to each of their job groups; those with 100 or less employees will apply it to their entire workforce.
  • This 7% goal will be used as a benchmark for government contractors and subcontractors to gauge their progress at ensuring equal opportunities for people with disabilities.

You may be wondering how adding people with disabilities to your workforce may affect how your business currently operates. Something very important to keep in mind is that these employees will need an accessible work environment. This includes not only the physical space, but also the tools used to complete their work. This includes internal systems and web technologies that are accessible to people who use assistive technologies.

The U.S, Department of Justice (DOJ) is also expected to update guidelines regarding how the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to website accessibility rules and assistive technologies. Expanding the scope of the ADA to fully cover web accessibility would require employers to ensure that online job applications and internal technology systems are accessible to those with disabilities.

Rather than waiting for the DOJ to force the issue, consider making your digital properties and tools accessible now. Once compliance requirements go in effect, you may not have the time you'd like to make the changes thoughtfully. Addressing accessibility issues now will cost you less time and money than scrambling to meet legal requirements later.

Learn More About Digital Accessibility in Free Webinar

If you would like to learn more about digital accessibility requirements and and legal risks, please join our upcoming free webinar hosted by noted experts John D. Kemp and Preety Kumar. Learn how to avoid digital accessibility litigation and ask questions of the experts on December 3, 2013, from 2-3 PM EST.

Register Now for the Webinar



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