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Office of Disability Employment Policy
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ODEP - Office of Disability Employment Policy

Disability Employment Policy Resources by Topic

Employment Rights: Who has Them and Who Enforces Them

Individuals with disabilities are protected from discrimination in employment primarily by two federal laws.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (P.L. 101-336), enacted into law on July 26, 1990, prohibits private sector employers who employ 15 or more individuals and all State and local government employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in all aspects of employment.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-112), as amended, prohibits discrimination in employment in three areas.

Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits federal executive branch agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service and the Postal Rate Commission, from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. It requires executive branch agencies to take affirmative action in the hiring, placing and advancing of individuals with disabilities.

Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act requires contractors who have a contract with the federal government for $10,000 or more, and their subcontractors who have subcontracts satisfying the same criteria, to take affirmative action to employ and to advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities.

Section 504 prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in employment and in their programs and activities.

Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) forbids disability-based discrimination, in employment or in provision of services, by any organization or other entity that receives Federal financial assistance under WIA, and by any program or activity that is provided as part of the nation's One-Stop job training system by a One-Stop partner.

Veterans with disabilities are protected further by 38 U.S. Code 4212 of the Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA). VEVRAA requires that contractors or subcontractors who have a contract with the federal government for $25,000 or more take affirmative action to employ, advance in employment, and otherwise treat covered veterans without discrimination.

Individuals with disabilities also may be protected by their state anti-discrimination laws, some of which are more stringent than the federal laws. To learn more about rights under state laws, contact the State Human Rights Commission or its equivalent, or contact the State Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities.


Applicants or Employees with Disabilities in the Private Sector

If a private sector employer employs 15 or more people, an individual with a disability who is employed by or applies for employment with that employer is protected by Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enforced primarily by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

  • To file a complaint under ADA Title I, contact the nearest EEOC office or call (800) 669-4000 (VOICE) or (800) 669-6820 (TTY/TTY).
  • If EEOC dismisses the complaint or fails to take action within 180 days, EEOC will issue the individual a right to sue letter, upon the person's request. The individual must sue within 90 days of the date of the notice.

If a private sector employer has a contract with the federal government for $10,000 or more, or a subcontract for that amount with a Federal contractor, an individual with a disability who is employed by or applies for employment with that employer is protected by Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

  • To file a complaint under Section 503, send it to OFCCP at the nearest U.S. Department of Labor district or regional office. Complaints can also be sent to OFCCP, U.S. Department of Labor, Frances Perkins Building, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20210.

If a private sector employer is a recipient of federal financial assistance, an individual with a disability who is employed by or applies for employment with that employer is protected by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, enforced by the federal agency that provided the federal financial assistance.

  • To file a complaint under Section 504 with the Federal government, send it to the Office of Civil Rights at the agency that provided the funds, or to the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Coordination and Review Section, P.O. Box 66118, Washington, DC, 20035-6118.
  • Individuals do not have to exhaust administrative procedures under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. They may file suit in federal district court against a private employer receiving federal financial assistance, without filing a complaint with the administrative agency.

If a private sector employer receives Federal financial assistance under WIA, or is a One-Stop partner that provides programs or activities as part of the One-Stop system, an individual with a disability who is employed by or applies for employment with that employer is protected by WIA Section 188, enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor, Civil Rights Center (CRC).

  • To file a complaint with CRC, send it to Director, Civil Rights Center, Frances Perkins Building, Room N-4123, 200 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20210. The employer is also required to establish a process for dealing with discrimination complaints itself. If, after filing with the employer, an individual is not satisfied with the outcome of the case, he or she may file with CRC within 30 days of receiving a Notice of Final Action from the recipient.

Applicants or Employees with Disabilities in State or Local Government Agencies

If a state or local government employer employs 15 or more people, an individual with a disability who is employed by or applies for employment with that employer is protected by Title I of the ADA, enforced by the EEOC. A state or local government, regardless of the number of employees it has, is also covered by Title II of the ADA, which is enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.

  • To file a complaint under ADA Title I, contact the nearest EEOC office or call (800) 669-4000 (VOICE) or (800) 800-3302 (TTY/TTY).
  • To file a complaint under ADA Title II, send it to the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Coordination and Review Section, P.O. Box 66118, Washington, DC, 20035-6118.

If a state or local government employer receives federal financial assistance, an individual with a disability who is employed by or applies for employment with that employer is protected by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, enforced by the federal agency that provided the federal financial assistance. The enforcement of Section 504 is coordinated by the U.S. Department of Justice.

  • To file a complaint under Section 504 with the Federal government, send it to the agency that provided the funds, or to the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Coordination and Review Section, P.O. Box 66118, Washington, DC, 20035-6118.
  • Individuals do not have to exhaust administrative procedures under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. They may file suit against a public entity in federal district court, without filing a complaint with an administrative agency.

If a state or local government employer receives Federal financial assistance under WIA, or is a One-Stop partner that provides programs or activities as part of the One-Stop system, an individual with a disability who is employed by or applies for employment with that employer is protected by WIA Section 188, enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor, Civil Rights Center (CRC).

  • To file a complaint with CRC, send it to Director, Civil Rights Center, Frances Perkins Building, Room N-4123, 200 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20210. The employer is also required to establish a process for dealing with discrimination complaints itself. If, after filing with the employer, an individual is not satisfied with the outcome of the case, he or she may file with CRC within 30 days of receiving a Notice of Final Action from the recipient.

Applicants or Employees with Disabilities in the Federal Government

If an employer is an executive branch of the federal government, an individual with a disability who is employed by or applies for employment with that employer is protected by Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended.

To file a complaint, the individual must first contact an equal employment opportunity counselor at the agency where the alleged discrimination took place.

  • There is a private right of action under Section 501. An individual can file a private lawsuit in a U.S. district court within 90 days of receipt of a final decision taken by the agency on the complaint; or 180 days after the date of filing a complaint if there has been no agency decision; or 90 days after receipt of a decision by EEOC on an appeal; or 180 days after the date of filing an appeal with EEOC if there has been no decision on the appeal.

Applicants or Employees Who are Veterans

If a private sector employer has a contract or subcontract with the federal government for at least $25,000 annually, Vietnam era veterans, special disabled veterans, recently separated veterans and veterans who served on active duty during a war or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized are covered by the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, as amended, 38 U.S.C. 4212.

The nondiscrimination and affirmative action provisions of VEVRAA are enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

  • To file a complaint, contact the Veteran's Employment and Training Service of the Department of Labor through the local veteran's employment representative or designee at the local state employment office.
  • A complaint also can be sent to OFCCP at the nearest U.S. Department of Labor district or regional office, or to OFCCP, U.S. Department of Labor, Frances Perkins Building, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20210.