Veterans, Disabled Hiring Requirements Looming
March 24 is the day the OFCCP's final rules take effect for enhancing the hiring of veterans and disabled individuals. If you're not ready, or close to ready, you should be concerned.
By Kristen B. Frasch
A significant number of affirmative-action requirements go into effect for federal agencies and contractors March 24 that experts are concerned might blindside more than one employer.
The two final rules, issued by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, are chock full of new and complex stipulations impacting government contractors and their affirmative-action plans for veterans and people with disabilities that should be putting affected employers on high alert, they say.
In the words of employment attorney Constantinos G. (Dino) Panagopoulos, a Washington-based partner with Ballard Spahr, "If they're not already on it, they're pretty late to the game."
In addition to drafting plans to ensure and prove their organizations are utilizing at least 7 percent of available disabled individuals in their workforces (for veterans, that percentage goes to 8), employers will be required to develop much more in-depth affirmative-action plans, collect and analyze data to ensure their plans are accurate and effective, create training programs to ensure everyone involved in hiring is aware of them, and draft formal plans for disseminating all this information to prospective candidates -- and that's just to name four.
Also increasing the regulations' administrative and data-collection challenges is the fact that employers will be required, come March 24, to invite all job applicants and employees to provide information regarding their disability status using the newly revised Voluntary Self-Identification Form that the OFCCP released in January.
And it doesn't just stop at the one invitation when they apply. Once an employment offer has been made, but before the applicant begins his or her job duties, the contractor again must invite the individual to self-identify. In addition, employees must be invited to self-identify during the first year the contractor becomes subject to the rules and at five-year intervals thereafter. Employees also must be reminded at least one time during the intervening years that they may update their status.
The rules are necessary in today's competitive job market and business climate, according to Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. In announcing the revisions last year, he said "employers need access to the best possible employees [today and] these rules make it easier for [them] to tap into a large, diverse pool of qualified candidates."
Patricia A. Shiu, director of the OFCCP, added at the time that "strengthening these regulations is an important step toward reducing barriers to real opportunities for veterans and individuals with disabilities."
But the added work for employers is imminent and unavoidable. For instance, part of the self-identification-form requirement means contractors need to develop procedures for distributing the new form to applicants and employees, collecting and analyzing information from it, and retaining copies of completed forms, says Panagopoulos. (In fact, all new forms generated through these affirmative-action regulations must be retained for at least three years, he adds, "because they're subject to audits by the OFCCP now.")
Additionally, with all the online recruiting going on these days, "there will be much more to revise online," he adds.
"This could be a huge project," he says. "For HR people responsible for implementing these plans, they need to get together with their IT people now," if not yesterday.
With little time left for federal contractors to get their i's dotted and t's crossed, Rob Barr, executive director of Moraga, Calif.-based Hire A Hero, a veterans' job board, says he's surprised by -- and concerned about -- a seeming void of information about the rules, which officially revise the OFCCP's Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.
"Right now, we're seeing a lot of employers unaware of the March 24 deadline," says Barr. "They also aren't aware of the tax benefits they can get by hiring veterans." To wit:
Â· Up to $2,400 for hiring a veteran who has been unemployed for at least four weeks,
Â· Up to $5,600 for hiring a veteran who has been unemployed for more than six months,
Â· Up to $4,800 for hiring a veteran with a service-connected disability, and
Â· Up to $9,600 for hiring a veteran with a service-connected disability and who has been unemployed for more than six months.
In addition to his job board, his company has also launched Staff a Hero to consult with veterans who are trying to build themselves as candidates.
For employers, he says, "we're just trying to build awareness, [especially] how to transfer a military job code into the workplace, so a candidate coming to the site can see how their military job and experience can translate into the workforce."
Generally, he says, there's growing awareness about the skills and competencies learned in the military, "but translating them is still a problem . . . we're still looking at new ways to approach the employer and improve the mind-set."