What is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law prohibiting disability discrimination in federal jobs, federal contract work and in programs that are conducted by federal agencies and those that receive financial assistance from the federal government. If you have a disability and have been discriminated against by a federal agency or by a federal employer or contractor, you may have legal rights. The employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler might be able to help you to understand your rights.

In order to determine whether or not illegal employment discrimination that is prohibited by the Rehabilitation Act has occurred, the same standards are used as under Title I of the ADA. Individuals who have disabilities and who are qualified are protected. People with disabilities are those who have mental or physical impairments that pose substantial limitations in at least one major activity of life. Covered individuals also include those who have records of having impairments and those who are believed to have impairments. People are qualified if they are able to perform the essential duties of their jobs or the positions for which they are applying with or without accommodations. There are several important sections of the Rehabilitation Act as described below.

Section 501

Under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, federal agencies may not discriminate against workers or applicants who have disabilities. The law does not require the federal agencies, including the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. Postal Service and others, to hire or retain a minimum number of disabled workers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s individual agencies administer Section 501 and has issued rules that federal employers are required to follow.

Section 503

Employers that have federal contracts are prohibited from discriminating against disabled workers under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. This prohibition includes both applicants and existing employees who have disabilities. Contractors must make affirmative actions to retain, hire and promote individuals with disabilities. Any company that has a contract worth more than $10,000 must adhere to the nondiscrimination portions of the law. Those with contracts of $50,000 or more must also adhere to the affirmative action requirements of the law.

Section 504

Qualified people with disabilities are protected from discrimination by any activity or program that receives federal financial assistance or by any activity or program that is conducted directly by federal agencies. There is not a minimum threshold for a program or agency to be covered by the law. Section 504 protects disabled individuals who apply to participate in these programs as well as employees and job applicants to the programs.

Section 508

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act covers federal agencies and the information technology services that they have in place. the agencies must use accessible communications and information technology for both employees and members of the general public. Many private employers who are not covered by this law have also adopted its standards in order to make certain that their own infrastructure is accessible.

Despite these laws, disability discrimination still occurs within the federal context. If you think that you have been the victim of federal disability discrimination, contact Swartz Swidler to learn more about your rights.