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Fostering an Inclusive Work Environment for Individuals with Disabilities
Over the past several months, OFCCP has increased its enforcement efforts pertaining to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Most notably, OFCCP is conducting reviews focused on federal contractors’ and sub-contractors’ affirmative action programs relating to disability. These reviews have included in-depth discussions on policies, procedures, and practices that organizations have in place.
With these focused reviews well under way, federal contractors and sub-contractors are now gaining insights into the OFCCP’s expectation regarding compliance with these regulations. One of the common themes in each of these focused reviews is that the success in meeting the requirements of the disability regulations depends on the creation of an inclusive work environment for individuals with disabilities.
Evaluate Workplace Infrastructure
Creating an inclusive environment starts with a review of the physical layout of a company’s facility, as well as an assessment of access to the building itself. Employers should ensure that offices, parking areas, ramps, entrances, break rooms, bathrooms, and other public areas are accessible to individuals with a disability. Additionally, employers should consider other elements such as the height of elevator buttons, bulletin boards, and display cases as well as the visibility of signage throughout the building.
Review Applicant and Interview Screening Process
With many federal contractors and subcontractors focusing on outreach to individuals with disability, it is important to ensure that there are no barriers for them when it comes to the application and screening process. To ensure that practices don’t unintentionally exclude individuals with disabilities, here are a few items to review:
- Post open positions with organizations that have access to individuals with disabilities and include a statement in the postings indicating the employer’s status as an equal opportunity employer.
- Include verbiage indicating a reasonable accommodation can be made if needed.
- Ensure that the website, especially the online application system, is accessible to individuals with disabilities and are compatible with assistive reading technologies.
- Review the physical location where applicants apply for and interview for positions to ensure it is accessible to individuals with disabilities. In addition, consider providing a description of the interview process to potential applicants so they can request accommodations if needed.
- Review screening questions used during the interview process to ensure they do not unintentionally screen out individuals with disabilities.
Conduct Assessment of Policies
Employers should ensure that company policies relating to affirmative action, diversity, and equal employment include references to individuals with disabilities. Employers should also have senior leaders indicate their commitment to an inclusive environment for individuals with disabilities in such policies. Additionally, employers should ensure that any policies relating to discrimination and harassment include a safe way for individuals with disabilities to file complaints.
An important consideration for employers is whether policies themselves are accessible. Employers should be prepared to provide policies and posters alternate formats such as large print or Braille if an employee or applicant requests it.
Update Company Publications
Employers should consider updating company publications and recruitment materials to include images of individuals with disabilities. Materials used for recruitment should encourage individuals with disabilities to apply and they should indicate a willingness to provide accommodations during both the application and hiring process.
Assess Accommodation Policy and Practices
Employers should review policies relating to reasonable accommodations with managers and employees to ensure that everyone is aware of how to request reasonable accommodations. It should be made clear that requesting an accommodation will not have a negative effect on their employment. Ideally, the accommodation process should be centralized to ensure that the accommodation process is consistent throughout the organization.
Survey for Disability Status
While federal contractors and sub-contractors are required to survey their workforce every five years for disability status, such organizations should consider surveying more often as a way to show that inclusion of individuals with disability is important to the organization. There are a number of ways to encourage employees to complete the survey such as providing a cover letter or a video that explains why this information is being requested and how it is going to be used. OFCCP has published a video employers can show to employees or applicants during the survey process. Verbiage regarding the survey should note that the survey is private an employee’s answer on the survey will have no negative effect on their employment.
It is important to note that organizations that do not have a covered contract or sub-contract with the federal government should not ask applicants or employees about disability status.
Employers should ensure that information pertaining to disability is part of the training that is conducted with all managers, especially recruiters and hiring managers. Training should help hiring managers and recruiters focus on appropriate and legal interview questions as well as well as how to avoid questions that expose the employer to risk. Additionally, hiring managers and recruiters should be trained on how to handle accommodation requests from applicants. Organizations may also consider including unconscious bias regarding individuals with disabilities in their training sessions.
While most of the items above will help contractors become compliant with the disability regulations, there are a number of other actions that contractors may consider in order to create a more inclusive environment.
- Create an Employee Resource Group (ERG) focused on issues and concerns relating to disability.
- Review company-sponsored social events to ensure that employees who are individuals with disabilities will be able to participate in them and ensure that accommodations can be made if needed.
- Allow for employees to take paid time off to volunteer with organizations that work and support individuals with disabilities.
- Offer training sessions on disability etiquette to staff as a way to make employees feel more comfortable when interacting with coworkers with disabilities.
- Consider taking the National Organization on Disability’s assessment known as Disability Employment Tracker. This assessment measures participating organizations’ efforts to create an inclusive environment for individuals with disabilities.
It is important to understand that making the workplace an inclusive environment for individuals with disabilities may take a lot work and the efforts that you make will be ongoing. However, organizations that have an inclusive environment for individuals with disabilities will find many benefits such as access to a larger talent pool, better employee satisfaction and retention, and hopefully, success in OFCCP focused reviews.