Labor Department’s new rules for hiring disabled, veterans a noble goal

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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In a week when the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington helped refocus the nation’s attention on jobs and equality, the Labor Department issued new rules aimed at benefiting two groups the job market often overlooks.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said Tuesday that most government contractors, which employ about 20 percent of the U.S. workforce, will be required to set “goals” to hire disabled workers and veterans equal to 7-8 percent of their employees.

This coincides with a 2010 executive order by President Barack Obama that called for the nation’s largest employer — the federal government — to be a model for employment of people with disabilities through increased recruitment, hiring and retention. His goal is the government hiring 100,000 disabled people over a five-year period.

The president has also encouraged corporations and small businesses, through tax breaks and other incentives, to hire more veterans, the heroes returning from wars and trying to reintegrate into society.

The department’s aim is a noble idea, but it’s already meeting some resistance from employers who see the goals as quotas and question the feasibility of meeting them when federal laws discourage inquiries about a person’s disability.

The unemployment rate for disabled people is almost twice the 7.4 percent of the general workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate is 9.9 percent for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

Federal and state laws already require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled workers. Bills passed by the Texas Legislature this year make it easier for veterans to transfer their military experience (such as operating heavy equipment and certain special skills) to the private sector.

Assisting disabled people and veterans to become gainfully employed shouldn’t be only a government matter, but a community-wide endeavor that involves training, additional support like transportation, and most of all, educating employers and the general society to invest in people who given the opportunity can be productive workers.

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