Federal Contractors are required to take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment individuals with disabilities and protected veterans. Effective outreach, recruitment and retention are essential to this effort. As OFCCP has stated repeatedly, it views the successful placement of these targeted groups as the most telling indicator of whether a Federal Contractor has complied with the requirement and made sufficient good faith efforts. Here are some thoughts to consider as you evaluate the effectiveness of your current recruitment efforts and plan for improving outreach and recruitment in the future.
There are a number of potential sources of candidates with disabilities and protected veterans. These may include service organizations, colleges and universities, vocational rehabilitation centers, state and local employment offices, and many more. Commonly, contractors provide a list of these when submitting their Affirmative Action Plans (AAP) for review.
OFCCP will be expecting that if it contacts one of the organizations listed that they will confirm an active ongoing outreach and recruitment effort with your company. If OFCCP is told that the organization either does not recognize your company, or has not dealt with you in a number of years, or just gets routine mailings or emails but no follow-up or personal interaction, it will not find your claims of good faith efforts credible or adequate. Having a close relationship with a number of recruitment sources takes time; however, it gives you or your agent, if you outsource recruitment, an opportunity to truly understand what kinds of clients the recruitment source serves and whether those clients have or can readily acquire the kind of knowledge, skills and abilities that you are actually seeking. The more the recruitment source understands your hiring needs, the closer they can come to finding the quality of applicant that has a high probability of successful employment.
It is also important that your outreach and recruitment efforts for individuals with disabilities and protected veterans extend to all levels and types of positions within your company. Depending on how your company recruits, you may have a situation where one division or department is committed to outreach to individuals with disabilities and/or protected veterans and is doing virtually all of the hiring of these candidates while many other divisions or departments are much more passive in this effort. This may result in an imbalance of representation in your workforce that may come across to the agency as a steering problem. In other words, it may look like you are only willing to hire individuals with disabilities for certain types of jobs and not others. This may be especially problematic if the units doing all of the hiring have lower promotion and growth potential than many of the other areas of your business. It is important then to be aware of the hiring patterns that result from your outreach and recruitment efforts. Since good faith efforts and not guaranteed results are the law, you can counter this impression by showing that you have made similar efforts with a broad range of positions, but perhaps without the volume of opportunities. You may also be able to show that the candidates you hired were clearly more qualified.
In order for the outreach and recruitment process to be successful, the application process must be accessible to individuals with disabilities and protected veterans. Applicants should be notified that accommodations for disabilities are available during the application process and be provided instructions and timelines for requesting such accommodations. Your timelines should allow sufficient advanced notice to enable you to ensure that the accommodation will be available at the point in the application process where it will be needed. For example, if you are planning a job fair or other recruitment event, individuals should be informed of the process for requesting sign language interpreters, alternative formats for print media or other reasonable accommodations in time to secure the necessary services and materials for the event. Similarly, if tests are part of the application process, applicants need to be informed of how to request accommodations necessary to take the test. If the accommodation involves an alteration in the manner or means of taking the test, such as providing additional time, it is important to find out if this affects the validity of the test instrument. This is information you ideally would have inquired into when you had the test validated.
There are a number of things to keep in mind when interviewing individuals with disabilities and protected veterans who are also individuals with disabilities. First, while OFCCP has invited public input on whether pre-employment inquiries about disability should be allowed for affirmative action purposes, at present virtually all inquiries about disability are off limits at the interview stage. Other than inquiries necessary for making and providing requested accommodations to the application process, inquiries about disability should be avoided until after at least a conditional offer of employment is made and then in strict compliance with the limitations that apply to such inquiries. Both OFCCP and EEOC provide information about when and how inquiries about disabilities can be made in compliance with Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act on their websites (www.eeoc.gov and www.dol.gov). In general, these inquiries and any medical examinations should only be made post offer and pre-entry on duty provided that they are asked of all candidates entering into the position.
Interviews should focus on the requirements of the position and the candidate’s qualifications related to the position and not about the disability. You should note that an applicant is not required to actually prove he or she has a disability to have standing to challenge what the applicant believes is an illegal inquiry about disability. For example, if you asked a protected veteran, pre-offer, about whether he or she has post-traumatic stress syndrome, the veteran would not have to actually have the disability in order to challenge the illegality of the inquiry. This inquiry would likely be viewed as discriminatory under Section 503 because of the disability aspect of the question, but also, if only asked of known veterans, it may be challenged as discrimination based on veteran’s status.
In addition to the legal requirements, it is also important to sensitize interviewers to the etiquette expected in dealing with individuals with disabilities. The Department of Labor website, www.dol.gov, provides a link to the National Center on Workforce Disability (NCWD) where you can find information on the social guidelines for interviewing individuals with disabilities (http://www.onestops.info/article.php?article_id=2). It provides useful general advice like not automatically giving assistance to an applicant without first asking the individual if he or she wants the assistance, such as when a person with poor grasping ability is having trouble with a doorknob. The NCWD also advises that you not automatically assume that the answer to that inquiry will be yes.
The NCWD also provides advice on the appropriate etiquette for individuals with specific kinds of disabilities such as blindness, hearing impairments, cognitive impairments and disabilities requiring the use of a wheelchair. Some examples of the types of advice offered are: when interviewing a blind person, identify all of the parties in the room; for interviewing a person who is deaf, direct your attention and your questions to the applicant, not the sign language interpreter; for individuals with cognitive impairments, ask the applicant to summarize what you said to make sure he or she understands; and for individuals using a wheelchair, get on the same eye level with the applicant if the conversation will last for more than a minute or so.
The success of a recruitment and outreach effort must be reinforced with an application and interview process that clearly demonstrates that your company is truly an equal opportunity employer and that the applicant will be comfortable working there because you are comfortable with and committed to hiring a diverse workforce including individuals with disabilities and protected veterans.
It is important that recruiters, employees involved in the application and hiring process, managers and ultimately future coworkers be educated and sensitized to the proper etiquette for interacting with individuals with a variety of disabilities. This kind of education is best carried out as part of your regular equal opportunity training program and not in response to a particular applicant’s or employee’s disability. For example, you could have an ongoing program focusing each session on different types of disabilities.
Education and sensitization may also help dispel myths, fears and stereotypes not only about individuals with disabilities, but also about returning combat veterans. Education may eliminate discrimination that is the result of ignorance and misunderstanding about these populations. It is important that you review the content of such training to make sure that it is legally sound and that it is not delivered in a manner that, in itself, is offensive on the basis of disability and protected veteran status. Make sure that the training is from a reliable, knowledgeable and sensitive source that understands the particular disability or veteran’s issues that are the subject of the training.
Documenting your efforts at outreach and recruitment can be as important as the efforts themselves. For example, you may have worked hard to develop personal relationships with recruitment sources only to find that the person you have built the close outreach and recruiting relationship with is no longer available when OFCCP schedules a compliance review or you may find that the recruitment source does not have the same recordkeeping obligations or incentives that you do and cannot corroborate your description of the extent of your recruitment efforts with them. Therefore, it is important that you document your meetings, telephone calls, and electronic and paper correspondence with the recruitment source and that you have records of who was referred through that source and whether these referrals resulted in successful placements. You should also keep records explaining why referrals who did not get selected were passed over.
These records can also be useful in assessing whether the recruitment source is worth maintaining or in explaining why you no longer use them. Using a recruitment source that never produces viable candidates year after year will likely be viewed as evidence of not making adequate good faith efforts. If you contract out your recruitment effort or if your recruiters are separate from your affirmative action and equal opportunity staff, it is important that they understand your affirmative action and equal opportunity obligations and maintain the kind and type of records that your company will need to prove compliance. Compliance obligations remain with the company even if you use third party recruiters.
While establishing and documenting personal interactions with the recruitment sources is critical, it is also important to document the advertising effort directed towards individuals with disabilities and protected veterans. For example, retain copies of announcements and advertisements placed in publications targeting individuals with disabilities and protected veterans and document the use of members of these groups in your recruiting materials and in online and print media. Make sure your vacancy announcements are available in accessible formats and that your websites are in accessible formats. If you are recruiting through the website of a third party provider, make sure that their website is accessible. Keep records of any special efforts that you have made to attract and retain qualified candidates with disabilities and qualified protected veterans including accommodations made in the hiring and employment process.
Keep records that show the training you have provided to your recruiters and to individuals involved in the hiring process. Keep records of your process of identifying and vetting the training and trainers that provide your sensitivity training and of the content of the training as well as who attended the training. If you use outside sources for recruitment, application or training, retain any records that demonstrate their knowledge and track record of effective recruitment of individuals with disabilities and protected veterans, including any effort you made to ascertain their skills in these areas in selecting them to provide you these services.
The most successful outreach and recruitment efforts match the right candidate with the right job. It does not benefit the individual with a disability or the protected veteran to only be hired because of his or her protected status. It is important for retention, and success on the job, that the person be hired primarily because they bring the knowledge, skills and abilities required for successful performance in the position. You should be hiring an excellent candidate who happens to be disabled or a protected veteran and not just hiring anybody who will get your numbers up for OFCCP. This is not an either or proposition. With sufficient outreach, recruitment and commitment to hiring individuals with disabilities and protected veterans, you can find qualified applicants who will become successful employees. The obligation under the laws enforced by OFCCP is to employ and advance in employment individuals with disabilities and protected veterans. By hiring well qualified individuals with disabilities and protected veterans into the right jobs, you make your obligation to advance such individuals in employment an easy one to fulfill.