On August 27, 2013, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) announced new changes to the regulations implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act. These laws require federal contractors to have an affirmative action plan to employ veterans and individuals with disabilities. They also prohibit federal contractors from discriminating against these persons.

According to the OFCCP, the purpose of the new regulations is to improve job opportunities for veterans and disabled individuals by strengthening federal contractors’ affirmative action plans. To that end, the regulations require contractors to collect data regarding the number of veterans and disabled individuals that apply for and receive jobs. Contractors must also invite job applicants to “self-identify” as a veteran or disabled individual, using language provided by the OFCCP, both before and after the applicant receives a job offer. The rules also require that contractors use specific language in their subcontract if it incorporates an equal opportunity clause by reference. Further, contractors must provide the OFCCP with access to their records during a compliance review.

The regulations also establish new hiring benchmarks for veterans and disabled individuals. For veterans, contractors may establish a benchmark equal to the national percentage of veterans in the labor force, or they may establish their own benchmark based on their unique circumstances and industry data published by the OFCCP. For disabled individuals, the rules establish a flat 7% utilization goal. Contractors must conduct an annual assessment of any area in their workforce that has problems meeting this goal and develop a program to address the problems. Lastly, the rules revise Section 503 to bring it into conformity with the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.T

he regulations will go into effect 180 days after they are published in the Federal Register, which is expected to occur in the next few weeks. The OFCCP has indicated that federal contractors with affirmative action plans already in place will have additional time to comply. Although the effective date appears far off, we recommend that employers immediately begin reviewing their affirmative action plans to make sure they comply with the new regulations.