The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as Amended prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in:
- Programs that are conducted by federal agencies;
- Programs that are receiving federal financial assistance;
- Federal employment; and
- The employment practices of federal contractors.
In terms of the standards that are used for determining employment discrimination under the Rehab Act, they are the same as that of Title I of the ADA in that they protect “qualified individuals with disabilities.”
According to the Act, an individual with a disability is defined as a person who:
- Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of their major life activities;
- Has a record of such impairment; and/or
- Is regarded as having such an impairment.
The Act defines the term “qualified” as meaning that the person satisfies the job-related requirements of the position they hold, or is applying for, and can perform its essential functions. This applies whether the performance is with or without a reasonable accommodation.
The Rehab Act of 1973 contains several sections, some of which are:
- Section 501: This section prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the federal sector. This includes the U.S. Postal Service, the Postal Regulatory Commission, and the Smithsonian Institution. However, it does not require these entities to have a minimum number of employees at the worksite in order to be covered.
- In February 2016, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding Section 501. This consolidates existing requirements from a variety of sources, and sets a goal for federal agency workforces of 12 percent representation for disabled people, and 2 percent for those with “targeted” disabilities;
- Section 503: Section 503 prohibits employers with federal contracts, or subcontracts, from discriminating against disabled applicants and employees by requiring affirmative steps to hire, retain, and promote qualified disabled workers. These non-discrimination provisions apply to all companies who have contracts in excess of $10,000; however, the affirmative action provisions only apply to companies with 50 or more employees, and contracts of $50,000 or more. 2014 updates to Section 503 created a 7 percent representation goal, as well as a requirement that employers must invite applicants and employees to self-identify as disabled;
- Section 504: Section 504 prohibits discrimination against qualified disabled people by any program or activity that is receiving federal financial assistance. This also includes any program or activity that is conducted by a federal executive agency, as well as the U.S. Postal Service. For programs or activities that are receiving federal financial assistance, there is no minimum coverage that must be met.
- Additionally, there is no requirement stating that recipients or executive agencies must have a certain number of employees. This particular section protects qualified disabled individuals who apply to and participate in such programs, as well as job applicants and employees of the organizations that provide them. Section 504 will be further discussed below; and
- Section 508: This section addresses information technology; specifically, it requires federal agencies’ information and communications technology to be accessible to disabled people. This includes employees as well as members of the public. Although Section 508 of the Act only applies to federal agencies, there are many private employers who have adapted their standards in order to ensure that their technology infrastructure is accessible.