The EEOC recently published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking clarifying federal agencies’ affirmative action obligations under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 501 requires federal agencies to establish an affirmative action program (AAP) for the hiring, placement, and advancement of individuals with disabilities. Significantly, the EEOC aims to set affirmative action goals for federal agencies whereas currently agencies set their own goals.

Under the proposed rule, agencies would submit plans that must meet certain criteria. Agencies must strive to have a 12% representation of people with disabilities, and a 2% representation rate for people with targeted/severe disabilities. Additionally, unless it would impose undue hardship on an agency, agencies must provide personal assistance to disabled employees that require assistance to be at work or travel for work.

Current regulations merely provide that federal agencies should be a model employer of individuals with disabilities. Further guidelines are set forth in various Executive Orders, Management Directives, and sub-regulatory documents, so this proposed rule would consolidate a variety of sources’ information to which federal agencies could refer.

The Commission has invited members of the public to comment on the proposed rule through April 25, 2016. After April 25, the Committee will likely revise the rule as necessary then submit a final rule to the Office of Management and Budget for coordination. Ultimately, the rule will be published in the Federal Register.

Although this rulemaking only applies to federal agencies, it certainly provides insight to the EEOC’s disabilities agenda. Employers with AAPs need to look at how, if at all, the plan addresses disabled workers and whether it needs to. For employers who do not have affirmative action obligations, this is a reminder that the EEOC has made disability claims a priority and may take a closer look at charges raising those allegations.