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Inclusive Recruitment: Applicable Laws and Regulations

Learn about federal laws and regulations that impact recruitment activities.

Several laws impact the employment of people with disabilities, including at the recruitment stage. There are also some that require certain employers to take proactive steps to recruit people with disabilities.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The most wide-reaching law impacting the employment of people with disabilities is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Title I of the ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability for private employers with 15 or more employees. It also prohibits discrimination in employment agencies, labor unions and joint labor management committees, regardless of the number of employees. Title II of the ADA covers programs, activities and services of public entities. As part of this, it prohibits public entities, regardless of size of workforce, from discriminating against people with disabilities in their own employment practices. Thus, all state and local government employers are covered.

At the heart of the ADA’s employment provisions is the concept of reasonable accommodations. A reasonable accommodation is considered any modification to the work environment, or the way a job is done, that enables someone with a disability to apply for or perform a job.

The ADA also restricts what employers may and may not ask during the recruiting and application process and the use of pre-employment screenings. As a result, it is important to understand the ADA’s requirements even during the recruitment phase.

Rehabilitation Act

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 includes several sections that impact the recruitment of people with disabilities.

Section 501, which applies to federal agencies (including the U.S. Postal Service, the Postal Regulatory Commission and the Smithsonian Institution), prohibits discrimination against job applicants as well as existing employees based on disability. It also requires agencies to take proactive steps, or affirmative action, to employ people with disabilities, including certain targeted disabilities, with specified representation goals. EARN’s Section 501 Information Center provides an overview of the law and links to additional resources.

Section 503 also prohibits discrimination against job applicants as well as existing employees based on disability, but applies to federal contractors and subcontractors. It also requires federal contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to employ people with disabilities, with specified representation goals. Section 503 is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). OFCCP offers extensive information about these requirements on its Section 503 webpage.

Section 504 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, or by any program or activity conducted by a federal executive agency or the U.S. Postal Service. In addition to protecting people with disabilities who apply to and participate in such programs, Section 504 covers job applicants and employees of the organizations that provide them.

Section 508 covers information and communications technology. It requires federal agencies’ information and communications technology to be accessible to people with disabilities—including job applicants. While Section 508 only applies to federal agencies, many private employers have adapted its standards as a way to ensure their technology infrastructure—including eRecruiting tools—is accessible.

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act was enacted in 2014 to address challenges facing the U.S. workforce, including shortages in the numbers of workers with postsecondary education and the lack of workforce participation by people with disabilities. WIOA supports employment of people with disabilities by funding efforts by state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies to assist employers in providing employment and work-based learning opportunities, including apprenticeships and internships. WIOA also funds services for youth and young adults, including those with disabilities, to help them develop workplace skills and gain work experience. To learn more about how WIOA supports employment of people with disabilities, visit the WIOA webpage.

Executive Orders

The President of the United States can issue Executive Orders (EOs) to manage the operations of the executive branch of government. In 2021, President Biden released Executive Order 14035 to address Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce. The EO establishes that the Federal Government must be a model for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA).  It also outlines procedures to advance these priorities across the federal workforce. EARN offers a fact sheet and themes document to help federal employers better understand the requirements of EO 14035. To learn more about EO 14035, visit the EO 14035 Info Center.

Veterans Legislation

The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) requires employers with federal contracts or subcontracts of $100,000 or more to take affirmative action to employ specified categories of veterans, advance them in employment, and prohibits discrimination against them. VEVRAA’s categories of protected veterans include disabled veterans. Like Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, VEVRAA is administered by OFCCP, which provides information on its VEVRAA webpage.