Rehabilitation Act of 1974 (Rehab Act): Disabled Workers and the Federal Government
The Rehab Act, like the later-enacted Americans with Disabilities Act, is a civil rights law designed to protect federal employees and employees of federal contractors with disabilities from disparate treatment by employers. In addition to federal civil rights protection, the Rehab Act goes a step further and provides direct services to disabled persons. These services are designed to help disabled Americans become qualified for employment. Through vocational services, the Rehab Act fulfills two important needs: job training and job accommodation.
- Under federal law, companies doing business with the federal government must take positive steps to employ qualified disabled workers.
- Furthermore, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the law prohibits discrimination against disabled persons in the workplace.
- Employers are required to take steps to ensure that no one retaliates against the disabled worker for filing a complaint under the Rehab Act.
- Qualified Disabled People must have one of the following:
- A physical or mental disability which substantially limits one or more major life activities;
- A record of such an impairment; OR
- Be regarded as having such an impairment.
- Major Life Functions include, but are not limited to, breathing, seeing, hearing, caring for oneself, walking, and working.
- Reasonable Accommodation means an adjustment to a disabled worker's working conditions or environment to enable her to perform an essential function of her job. To be reasonable the adjustment cannot create an undue hardship for the employer.
- Reasonable Accommodation includes but is not limited to:
- Some renovations to existing facilities to make them readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.
- Job restructuring.
- Modification of work schedule.
- Reassignment to vacant positions.
- Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices.
- Adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials/programs and policies.
- Providing qualified readers or interpreters.
- Undue Hardship means actions which require significant difficulty or expense when considered in the light of several factors. These factors include:
- Size of the business.
- Financial resources of the company.
- Nature and structure of the operation.
Filing Requirements and Limitations:
- Government employees must exhaust all administrative remedies first before bringing suit.
- Employees of federal contractors may file a complaint with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs offices within 300 days from the date of the alleged violation. The OFCCP may extend the filing time for good cause.
- Federal government employees must follow a different process than employees of federal contractors. They must file a complaint with the EEOC within 45 days of the potentially unlawful action. The deadline will not be extended because of internal investigation of the incident within the company. The complaint will be heard by an EEOC administrative law judge. A lawsuit must be filed within 90 days of the agency's decision to accept or reject the decision of the administrative law judge.
- Charges and complaints filed under the Rehab Act with the OFCCP will be considered charges filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if the complaint also falls within ADA jurisdiction.
- The Rehab Act covers all companies with federal contracts or subcontracts in excess of $10,000. It does not include the following:
- Contracts or subcontracts with transactions under $10,000.
- Contracts and subcontracts of indefinite quantities unless there is reason to believe that the purchases will exceed $10,000 for the year.
- Contracts for work that is performed outside the United States by employees not recruited in the United States.
- Contracts exempt for national interest or security reasons.
- Contracts with state or local governments unless the governmental entity participates in the work or participates under the contract.
Remedies and Damages:
- The OFCCP will often attempt to enter into a conciliation agreement with the employer. Such agreements may include a job offer, reinstatement, back pay, a promotion or reasonable accommodation.
- The OFCCP may also issue a right-to-sue letter.
- Back Pay
- This is the most common form of relief.
- Includes wages, salary, and fringe benefits the claimant would have received during the period of discrimination from the date of termination/failure to promote to the date of trial.
- You have a duty to mitigate these damages by taking reasonable efforts to find comparable employment after you have been terminated.
- Compensatory Damages
- Awarded for emotional distress, pain and suffering, humiliation, embarrassment, inconvenience, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life.
- Individual claim caps are placed on this type of damages by federal law based on the size of the employer.
- Attorney's Fees
- The court may choose to award attorney's fees to the prevailing, or winning, party.