Department of Labor Amends Legislation Protecting Veterans and Disabled Individuals from Discrimination

The Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently issued a Final Rule amending portions of the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (“VEVRAA”) and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Rule creates new obligations for certain employers in relation to affirmative action and nondiscrimination of veterans and disabled individuals. It is designed to provide relief to these employees, who often face difficulties in finding a job as a result of their status. The Rule establishes requirements aiming to increase the number of workers hired by federal contractors who fall under these categories.

Pursuant to the new changes, employers and their subcontractors engaged in employment contracts with the federal government in excess of $10,000 must take affirmative steps to hire, employ and provide equal employment opportunities to veterans and disabled individuals. Employers will have the obligation to record their efforts and results in an Affirmative Action Plan (AAP), which may be reviewed and analyzed by the DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). This office has established a nationwide employment benchmark of seven percent (7%) for qualified disabled individuals and eight percent (8%) for veterans for qualifying employers.

Furthermore, employers must conduct an annual utilization analysis ensuring that these benchmarks are met, and identifying problem areas to establish specific programs tackling any issues. Contractors must create and maintain a record of quantitative comparisons for a period of three-years, reflecting the number of disabled individuals and veterans who apply for jobs and are employed by the con. To keep track of these figures, contractors must also encourage applicants to identify themselves as disabled individuals or veterans while applying for the jobs and after accepting employment offers. Additionally, employers must invite these employees to self-identify every five years, according to the language specified on the OFCCP website. Moreover, the Final Rule requires contractors to allow review of documents and records by the OFCCP per request, and maintain the Office informed of all formats in which it maintains records. Employers subject to the VEVRAA will also be under the oversight of the DOL’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS).

The new law is expected to have a positive impact in alleviating the unemployment rate of veterans, which is approximately 14.7 percent, and disabled individuals, which is around 7.3 percent. These unemployment rates reflect nearly twice the rate of unemployment for the general population. According to the director of the OFCCP, Patricia A. Shiu, these rules are expected to affect about 171,000 companies contracting with the federal government. Furthermore, the law is expected to assist as many as 200,000 veterans and 585,000 disabled individuals once all companies meet the law’s requirements within the first year.

Employers and contractors failing to comply with the new rule will be subject to increased oversight by the OFCCP, may lose their federal contracts and be subjected to additional penalties. The rule will be effective as of March 24, 2014.

If you are a disabled individual or a veteran and believe that you have suffered discrimination from an employer or prospective employer, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.