New Disability Regulations Are Stressing Federal Contractors

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Disabled workers under employ for federal contractors will need to come forward with their status soon, as new U.S. regulations requiring a minimum of 7 percent disabled workers will go into effect next week. Those contractors, which will include Boeing, Dell, AT&T, and 40,000 others, according to The Wall Street Journal, will need to have evidence that they are working toward or have met that goal, or else face repercussions that could even lead to loss of government contracts. The new regulation was made to boost employment for a group that has been seeing high rates of unemployment.

However, this puts companies in difficult positions in terms of how they go about gathering the information to comply with the new rules. Not all workers disclose their disability status, and not all want to — but full knowledge of those employed is necessary to meet the correct quota for some companies. “The word disability means you’re not able to do something. People don’t want to be perceived that way,” said Joe Gavigan, an engineer at GE Aviation, to The Wall Street Journal. Gavigan was a member of the U.S. Air Force Academy and was paralyzed during his time there. “You don’t want your boss to see you as being limited in your capability.”

“It is a cultural change. Part of this is about creating an environment where people feel safe identifying that they are a person with a disability, that they won’t be retaliated against if they ask for reasonable accommodations,” said Patricia Shiu, director of a rule issuing and overseeing office, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Even so, how to go about that is still in the testing phase, at least for those such as Chief Diversity Officer David Gonzales, who said, “We’re putting our toe int he water on this and right now we’re vetting. Our focus is to make sure it’s done in a very safe, private and confidential manner.”

Also under consideration is the way in which an amendment in 2008 has changed the way disability is defined, widening the definition to include health issues such as cancer, diabetes, depression, epilepsy, OCD, and others. This means a large company will likely have an easier time going beyond the 7 percent requirement, at least according to Daniel Yager, President of HR Policy Association, who spoke with The Wall Street Journal.

That’s only if the employees recognize these as disabilities and are willing to step forward and classify themselves as such. Also under consideration is the fact that companies who can find enough previously un-classified individuals to count toward their quota will not part of the desired change. They will be unlikely to be motivated to hire more disabled workers and will remain static. “Why have the target in there if it’s not encouraging the hiring of people with disabilities?” asked Mike Aitken, vice president of governmental affairs at the Society for Human Resource Management, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

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