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Government contractors required to hire disabled

Companies will be fined, face penalties must reach 7% disabled workforce

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Companies that work with the federal government have new rules to follow.

Now, they're required to set goals to hire a certain number of people with disabilities.

If the companies don't meet those requirements or prove they're trying to, they could face penalties or even lose their contract with the government.

The new labor department regulation mandates companies that have government contracts have seven-percent of their workforce be disabled or veterans.

Attorney Bob Riegel said it doesn't mean these companies will lose their contracts if it's not met, but that's a number they have to work towards.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that in 2012, eight-percent of non-disabled Americans were unemployed. That nearly doubles for people with disabilities.

The point of the new regulation is to bring that number down.

"Federal government contractors actually constitute a huge part of our work force… I'm not sure of the exact percentage. It's a very significant portion of our entire workforce in the country. So this does have some meaning to it," said Riegel.

The change sounds simple, but it will take money, time and staff for businesses to meet the requirement.

Businesses also have to survey their workers every five years to find out if any employees are veterans or have disabilities who need help.

"It will affect the employers because they have to make sure that they are doing what the regulation requires in terms of gathering this information and accumulating it and getting it to the Department of Labor under certain circumstances.

Riegel said although penalties are in place, the companies will have to just show they're working towards the seven-percent, not immediately meet it.

"It is a form of affirmative action. There is a number, seven-percent, that you will hear kicked around that is… That's not a threshold that's a necessarily gonna mean that you can't continue as a government contractor, if you don't have seven-percent of your work force as disabled workers. But it's a goal that you have to hit," said Riegel.

Some contractors said they're concerned about having to ask applicants if they are disabled and they're worry that current employees who do have disabilities that are less-noticeable like depression, or bipolar disorder, won't want to identify that because if they wanted it known, they would have already disclosed it with their employer.