Individuals with disabilities are protected from employment discrimination by Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehabilitation Act). The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and labor organizations. The nondiscrimination standards of the ADA apply to federal employees under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act. For more information about the ADA, read “Facts About the Americans with Disabilities Act.” The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federal jobs, programs run by federal agencies, programs that receive federal financial assistance and also in the employment practices of federal contractors.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) enforces Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 503), which is the section that applies to federal contractors. OFCCP shares enforcement authority for Title I of the ADA with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which has primary responsibility for enforcing the employment provisions of the law. Though DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) does not enforce either of these laws, it does provide outreach and education to help people with disabilities and employers understand how the ADA and Rehabilitation Act protect the rights of both employees and job seekers with disabilities.
Section 503 prohibits employment discrimination based on disability and also requires affirmative action in the hiring, placement and advancement of people with disabilities by federal contractors or subcontractors. Recent updates to Section 503 strengthened these affirmative action requirements. The regulations now include a utilization goal of 7 percent. That goal is a “yardstick” against which federal contractors can measure their success in recruiting and retaining individuals with disabilities. The nondiscrimination and affirmative action requirements of Section 503 apply to all government contractors with contracts or subcontracts in excess of $10,000 for the purchase, sale, or use of personal property or non-personal services. Most federal contractors are covered by both Section 503 and the ADA. For more information, read frequently asked questions about the Section 503 regulations.
OFCCP also enforces the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA), which prohibits employment discrimination against certain categories of veterans by federal contractors. Some veterans with disabilities are covered under this law. OFCCP strengthened the VEVRAA regulations by making affirmative action requirements more specific and requiring contractors to establish benchmarks to measure their progress toward achieving equal opportunity. If a covered disabled veteran believes they have been discriminated against by a federal contractor or subcontractor, they may file a complaint with OFCCP. For more information, check out OFCCP’s Section 503 and VEVRAA resource page.
DOL’s Civil Rights Center (CRC) enforces the employment-related provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504). Section 504 prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in employment and in their programs and activities. CRC also enforces Title II of the ADA as it applies to the workforce and labor-related practices of state and local governments and other public entities. In addition, CRC enforces the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Section 188 Nondiscrimination and Equal Opportunity Regulations, which prohibit disability-based discrimination by programs and activities that are offered as part of the public workforce development service delivery system. See the Laws & Regulations subtopic for more information on these laws.
U.S. Department of Labor Resources on Employee Rights
- Disability Nondiscrimination Law Advisor
- Laws Enforced by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
- Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act
- Frequently Asked Questions about the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
- Employers and the Americans with Disabilities Act: Myths and Facts
Other Resources on Employee Rights
- The Americans with Disabilities Act: Your Employment Rights as an Individual with a Disability
- Information from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about Employment-Related Disability Discrimination.
- Facts about the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Employees' Practical Guide to Negotiating and Requesting Reasonable Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act New Rules: Fact Sheet
- Information about the Americans with Disabilities Act from the Employer Assistance & Resource Network on Disability Inclusion
- Governors’ Committees on Employment of People with Disabilities
- Section 508.gov — How Do I Get My Section 508 Questions Answered?