The EEOC recently invited public input on potential revisions to the regulations implementing Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, which governs the federal government’s employment of individuals with disabilities. Specifically, the EEOC seeks to explain, for the first time, what Section 501’s mandate that the federal government “shall be a model employer of individuals with disabilities” means in concrete terms. Any resulting regulations would apply solely to public employees. But private employers should keep abreast of how the EEOC defines a “model employer,” as such definition could help inform future interpretations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which apply to most private employees.
The EEOC’s request for comments may provide a glimpse of things to come. Among the many issues on which the EEOC is seeking public comment, the EEOC is asking whether “model employers” should:
work with entities specializing in the placement of individuals with disabilities?
interview all qualified job applicants with disabilities or assign additional “points” to qualified applicants with disabilities?
subject their qualification standards and safety requirements to internal or external review to identify unnecessary barriers to individuals with disabilities?
gather feedback regarding their efforts to retain and advance employees with disabilities on an ongoing basis, for example, by conducting management roundtables or exit interviews with departing individuals with disabilities?
observe certain time limits for the provision of accommodations?
Although the EEOC has only posed questions thus far, private employers should take note and consider, for example, whether they are working with placement agencies to identify qualified candidates with disabilities, whether they should conduct a formal review of their safety requirements to ensure they have not inadvertently created unnecessary barriers to the employment of applicants with disabilities, and whether they are responding to requests for accommodations in a timely manner. Activities such as these certainly are not legal requirements (yet), but may help bolster an employer’s ADA defense down the road.
The deadline for submitting comments to the EEOC is July 14, 2014. At some point thereafter, we anticipate the EEOC will enact guidelines for what it means to be a “model employer” under the Rehabilitation Act. We will continue to monitor this process and keep you informed.