- The Washington Times - Friday, February 24, 2012

The Labor Department is about to make it harder for the disabled to find a job. The new policy is a painful reminder why it is important to get away fast when the government says it is trying to help you.

Public comment closed Thursday on a proposed rule forcing federal contractors to meet a quota of handicapped employees. Of course, the department denies it’s setting up a quota, but the modifications proposed to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 would require federal contractors to establish a goal of having 7 percent of “their employees be workers with disabilities in each job group.”

As a result, employers will be required to invite job candidates to “self-identify” as disabled before making a job offer. This is where the rule runs into a serious legal barrier. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), designed to protect the handicapped against workplace discrimination, specifically prohibits employers from asking employees or candidates about disabilities.

Judging from the ADA’s track record, this proposed regulation isn’t going to help those with disabilities. When the ADA was enacted in 1990, some 60 percent of disabled men were employed. Five years later, that rate dropped to 49 percent. Today, almost 80 percent of people with disabilities have left the labor force. These people no longer count as the unemployed because they are no longer looking for work. While these are shockingly low participation numbers, mandating federal contractors hire the disabled is not the solution.

The ADA was supposed to protect the disabled from discrimination. What it actually accomplished was making the disabled among the most vulnerable candidates by making the prospect of hiring them much more expensive. Faced with not only the need for pricey physical accommodations but the possibility of expensive litigation, employers frequently take the safest route and simply do not hire the obviously disabled.

The new Labor Department rule takes a similarly blunt approach, imposing reams of burdensome paperwork that will require fancy footwork from employers looking to maintain compliance with the rule without falling afoul of the ADA. The rule will require employers to keep extensive records of candidates with disabilities who apply, those who are hired, and what accommodations have been made. This is complicated because the employer is barred from asking about disabilities by the ADA and must rely on voluntary disclosure by the employee.

While the rule is supposed to apply to federal contractors only, that covers some of the nation’s largest employers. Tying them down will inevitably serve as a further drag on the already sluggish economy. The most pernicious part of the rule if enforced, though, is that it will leave even more people with disabilities out in the cold, without a job.

This is just one of the 195 major rules that President Obama has piled on in the first two years of his administration. More red tape is the last thing needed in a limping economy where the overall unemployment rate exceeds 8 percent with declining participation in the labor force. More government simply is not the answer.

The Washington Times