Meeting OFCCP Guidelines for Hiring People with Disabilities: Makes for a Better Business Culture

New Editions was named a “2014 Top Workplace” in the Washington Post last month. Washingtonian magazine named New Editions Consulting, Inc. one of the “50 Great Places to Work” in 2013. In addition to winning these awards, we have grown the business base by $1M per year for the past 12 years. Clearly, we are doing something right in our small company. We believe our success is directly related to the diversity and inclusiveness of our personnel who are the faces of the company and the keys to our success. We believe that as Federal contractors begin to hire people with disabilities to reach the goals of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, they are likely to see that their organizations’ culture improves.

In March, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued new final rules for Section 503. Section 503 promotes equal employment opportunities for applicants and employees with disabilities with Federal government contractors. Although not a quota or a ceiling, the final rule sets out new affirmative obligations on Federal contractors to recruit, hire, and promote qualified individuals with disabilities. Contractors are now required to maintain records that compare the number of individuals with disabilities who apply for jobs, with the number who are actually hired. Records must also be kept on outreach and recruitment efforts, retention, and career advancement. For the first time, contractors can invite job applicants to voluntarily self-identify as an individual with a disability at a pre offer stage of the hiring process as well as post job offer which will help contractors meet their recruitment, hiring, and career advancement goals. To get more information about Section 503, visit the Department of Labor’s OFCCP website.

What does this mean for people with disabilities? OFCCP estimates that an additional 600,000 workers with disabilities may be hired by Federal contractors to help meet Section 503 obligations.

What does this mean for Federal contractors?  They can enjoy the same inclusive culture that we’ve established at New Editions (and maybe even win awards for being a Great Place to Work!). 

The Great Place to Work awards are determined by surveying employees about their job satisfaction. Our employees say that they find their jobs rewarding, their managers caring and their co-workers engaging.

As President of New Editions, I’ve tried to inspire a culture where employees feel empowered to create a work/life balance and to do work that they find rewarding. We seek government contracts on topics we care about-- Children and Youth, Aging, Disability, Health, Workforce Development, Education, Housing, Transportation and International Development Programs. After winning new work, we try to promote our employees before we bring in additional staff. One of our goals is to be an inclusive employer. We value our employees’ differences and their varied experiences.

I started my career after earning my Master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling in 1978.  My challenge was to change the negative attitudes of employers about people who have disabilities.  Over the years, research continued to prove that workers with disabilities are generally good employees and have comparable or better absentee and turnover rates, and yet employers weren’t hiring. Even after some large, socially-responsible companies began to employ people with disabilities, the unemployment rate remained and continues to remain stubbornly low. As a rehabilitation counselor I tried to change that.

As an employer, I had more control. Twelve years ago, when I began to hire the first New Editions’ employees, I decided that New Editions would look like every company in America should look—with a workforce representing the rich diversity in our country—made up of many different races, religions, ages, cultures, and disabilities. Today, more than 20% of our employees self-identify as having a disability.  About 30% are workers over the age of 55.  Another 30% are Millennials. We have staff at all stages of life—some just starting out, some with young children, some juggling the needs of aging parents and all those in between.

New Editions has created a sense of inclusivity that permeates the organization and is shared and executed by all our employees. Our corporate culture values talents, skills, and contributions of each and every employee while fostering independence, growth, and development among the entire team.  At New Editions, there are no barriers to achievement. Appropriate technology and telecommuting are helpful to people who have disabilities, but also help aging workers and those with young families. We view accommodations as a natural part of business operations to ensure that every staff member has the tools and resources needed to succeed.

To the employers who opposed the 503 rule, my best advice is to recognize the value of employee differences.  Then, establish a corporate environment where people with disabilities are part of the team—sought after in the hiring process, accommodated as needed, valued as team members, included in social, volunteer and corporate events and rewarded through compensation and advancement based on merit and achievement.

Shelia Newman, President, New Editions Consulting, Inc. has over 25 years of experience in Federal government contracting. Read Shelia's bio.