Last week, the EEOC invited public comment on potential revisions to the regulations implementing Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which governs the federal government’s employment of people with disabilities. Specifically, the EEOC aims to clarify what it means for the federal government to “be a model employer of individuals with disabilities” pursuant to Section 501.  While any revised regulations will only apply to the public employees, how the EEOC defines a “model employer” could impact future interpretations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which apply to most private employees. To the extent any resulting regulation is viewed as reasonable, it may have implications for private employers as courts often look to case law interpreting the Rehabilitation Act to assist in interpreting the ADA.

Among various other related topics, the EEOC is seeking public comment on whether federal employers should:

  • work with entities specializing in the placement of individuals with disabilities, such as state vocational rehabilitation agencies or the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs
  • interview all qualified job applicants with disabilities or assign additional “points” to qualified applicants with disabilities
  • internally or externally review their qualification standards and safety requirements to identify unnecessary barriers to individuals with disabilities
  • include certain information about affirmative action for individuals with disabilities in their job advertisements
  • observe certain guidelines for determining the essential functions of the job or engage in additional, targeted outreach?
  • 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
  • observe certain limitations on the collection of medical information during the interactive process
  • adopt certain methods of funding, or budgeting for, reasonable accommodations

The deadline for submitting comments to the EEOC is July 14, 2014.  Given the potential impact on interpretation of the ADA, private employers should keep abreast of any resulting new regulations.