Shiu: Contractors who miss disability goals face debarment

Monday - 12/12/2011, 11:24am EST

Patricia Shiu, director, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, Labor Department

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Patricia Shiu, director, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, Labor Department (photo from DOL.gov)
By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

Affirmative action for disability hiring should be elevated to the level of race and gender, a Labor Department official said. A proposed Labor rule submitted Friday aims at doing that by mandating 7 percent of federal contractors' workforce be disabled people.

Labor is seeking comments on the rule, published in the Federal Register last week.

The rule opens up the possibility for punishment if contractors don't meet the hiring goal.

"In some cases, in the most egregious cases, we will be seeking to debar them, as we do in cases of race and gender," said Patricia Shiu, director of the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris.

The definition of disability under the American Disability Act is quite broad. It includes both "physical and mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities" of the person, according to the definition. This definition encompasses ailments from cancer to epilepsy to high blood pressure.

Shiu said she suspects that most contractors already meet the 7 percent goal. However, the proposal is important because people with disabilities have a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the workforce — only about 20 percent of people with disabilities work, and that doesn't include the "discouraged worker population," Shiu said.

As part of the comment period, Labor also wants to hear about ways to recruit people with targeted disabilities, she said.

A provision in the rule would allow disabled applicants to disclose their disability in the pre-offer stage.

In addition to the 7 percent goal, the proposed rule sets new standards for data collection. Shiu said Labor is interested in not just the goal but the steps the contractor took in outreach, hiring and retention.

"Because what gets measured gets done," Shiu said.

She added the standards will help federal contractors do a "self-analysis." Contractors already maintain data and must submit affirmative action plans for contracts of $50,000 or more with at least 50 people, she said.

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