Employment Rights

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This online publication provides an overview for employment of persons with disabilities. Most of the links found below will take you away from this webpage to websites maintained by others. Links are current as of June 1, 2018.  The information provided is not intended to be all-inclusive and is not a substitute for legal advice.

Two federal laws with their accompanying regulations are the primary framework for disability-related law.  The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as amended address employment rights and non-discrimination.

These laws not only mandate the inclusion of people with disabilities in workplaces from which they were previously excluded, they also have the power to transform workplaces to make them more accessible for people with disabilities.

Rehabilitation Act

The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of Federal contractors. The standards for determining employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act are the same as those used in Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Section 501

Section 501 requires affirmative action and nondiscrimination in employment by Federal agencies of the executive branch. To obtain more information or to file a complaint, employees should contact their agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office.

The law: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/rehab.cfm

The regulations: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/regulations/index.cfm

Section 503

Section 503 requires affirmative action and prohibits employment discrimination by Federal government contractors and subcontractors with contracts of more than $10,000. For more information on Section 503, contact:

Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Room C-3325
Washington, D.C. 20210

Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs website.

(202) 693-0106 (voice/relay)

The law: https://www.dol.gov/ofccp/regs/compliance/sec503.htm

The regulations: https://www.dol.gov/ofccp/regs/compliance/Section503.htm

Section 504

Section 504 states that “no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under” any program or activity that either receives Federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency or the United States Postal Service.

Each Federal agency has its own set of Section 504 regulations that apply to its own programs. Agencies that provide Federal financial assistance also have Section 504 regulations covering entities that receive Federal aid. Requirements common to these regulations include reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities, program accessibility, effective communication with people who have hearing or vision disabilities, and accessible new construction and alterations. Each agency is responsible for enforcing its own regulations. Section 504 may also be enforced through private lawsuits. It is not necessary to file a complaint with a Federal agency or to receive a “right-to-sue” letter before going to court.

For information on how to file 504 complaints with the appropriate agency, contact:

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Disability Rights Section – NYAV
Washington, D.C. 20530

ADA Website

(800) 514-0301 (voice)
(800) 514-0383 (TTY)

The law: https://www.dol.gov/oasam/regs/statutes/sec504.htm

The regulations: see above

Section 508

Section 508 establishes requirements for electronic and information technology developed, maintained, procured, or used by the Federal Government. Section 508 requires Federal electronic and information technology to be accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public.

An accessible information technology system is one that can be operated in a variety of ways and does not rely on a single sense or ability of the user. For example, a system that provides output only in visual format may not be accessible to people with visual impairments and a system that provides output only in audio format may not be accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some individuals with disabilities may need accessibility-related software or peripheral devices in order to use systems that comply with Section 508. For more information on Section 508, contact:

U.S. General Services Administration
Office of Government-wide Policy IT Accessibility & Workflow Division (ITAW)
1800 F Street, N.W.
Room 2222 – MEC:ITAW
Washington, DC 20405-0001

GSA Section 508 and Accessibility

(202) 501-4906 (voice)

U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
1331 F Street, N.W., Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111

United States Access Board

800-872-2253 (voice)
800-993-2822 (TTY)

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Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. It also applies to the United States Congress.

To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability. An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.

ADA Title I: Employment

Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others. For example, it prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment. It restricts questions that can be asked about an applicant’s disability before a job offer is made, and it requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship. Religious entities with 15 or more employees are covered under Title I.

Title I complaints must be filed with the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the date of discrimination, or 300 days if the charge is filed with a designated state or local fair employment practice agency. Individuals may file a lawsuit in Federal court only after they receive a “right-to-sue” letter from the EEOC.

Charges of employment discrimination on the basis of disability may be filed at any U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission field office. Field offices are located in 50 cities throughout the U.S. and are listed in most telephone directories under “U.S. Government.” For the appropriate EEOC field office in your geographic area, contact:

(800) 669-4000 (voice)
(800) 669-6820 (TTY)

You may also submit an inquiry through the EEOC online public portal.

For information on specific accommodations for people with disabilities, contact the Job Accommodation Network at:

(800) 526-7234 (voice)
(877) 781-9403 (TTY)

JAN – Job Accommodation Network – A source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues.

The law:  https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/ada.cfm

The EEOC regulations: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/regulations/index.cfm

ADA Title II: State and Local Government Activities

Title II covers all activities of State and local governments regardless of the government entity’s size or receipt of Federal funding. Title II requires that state and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities (e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings).

State and local governments are required to follow specific architectural standards in the new construction and alteration of their buildings. They also must relocate programs or otherwise provide access in inaccessible older buildings, and communicate effectively with people who have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities. Public entities are not required to take actions that would result in undue financial and administrative burdens. They are required to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination, unless they can demonstrate that doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity being provided.

Complaints of Title II violations may be filed with the Department of Justice within 180 days of the date of discrimination. In certain situations, cases may be referred to a mediation program sponsored by the Department. The Department may bring a lawsuit where it has investigated a matter and has been unable to resolve violations. For more information, contact:

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Disability Rights Section – NYAV
Washington, D.C. 20530


(800) 514-0301 (voice)
(800) 514-0383 (TTY)

Title II may also be enforced through private lawsuits in Federal court. It is not necessary to file a complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ) or any other Federal agency, or to receive a “right-to-sue” letter, before going to court.

General Information on the ADA, updates on cases, a newsletter and training opportunities can be found at:  http://www.adainfo.org/home

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Code of Virginia

In 1985, the legislature passed The Virginians with Disabilities Act (VDA) which set forth the policy of the Commonwealth and prohibited discrimination under state grants and programs and prohibited discrimination in employment.  Although many provisions are similar to the later Americans with Disabilities Act, there are differences. In relation to employment, the VDA covers employers with less than 15 employees.

§ 51.5-1. Declaration of policy.


§ 51.5-40. Nondiscrimination under state grants and programs.


§ 51.5-40.1. Definitions.


§ 51.5-41. Discrimination against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities by employers prohibited.


§ 51.5-46. Remedies.


The Virginia Office of the Attorney General has a Division of Human Rights that may assist with employment issues. The Office of the Attorney General has jurisdiction over employers with 6-14 employees. https://oag.state.va.us/programs-initiatives/human-rights.

Their site also links to localities that have similar divisions.

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Other Federal Law

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)

In July 2015, most of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) took effect.  WIOA was designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed in the labor market.

The law: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-113publ128/pdf/PLAW-113publ128.pdf

The regulations: https://www.doleta.gov/wioa/final-rules.cfm

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Sub-Minimum Wage Employment for Persons with Disabilities

Since 1938, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act has authorized employers, after receiving a certificate from Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the Department of Labor, to pay wages that are less than the Federal minimum wage to workers who have disabilities.

The regulations:  https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr;sid=fbe6bc008f0b80f1507f5b4a3c2c7333;rgn=div5;view=text;node=29%3A3.;idno=29;cc=ecfr

On February 12, 2014, the President signed Executive Order 13658, “Establishing a Minimum Wage for Contractors,” to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for workers on covered Federal contracts, including workers with disabilities. (Please see the Executive Order Final Rule Website for more information on the Executive Order, including Fact Sheet: Raising the Minimum Wage for Workers with Disabilities under Executive Order 13658 for specific information on the impact of the Executive Order on Section 14(c).) On July 22, 2014, the President signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The Act increases individuals with disabilities’ access to workforce services to prepare them for competitive integrated employment. WIOA also requires better employer engagement and promotes physical and programmatic accessibility to employment and training services for individuals with disabilities.

One of the changes made under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act was to Section 511 of the Rehabilitation Act. This limited payment of subminimum wages by entities holding special wage certificates under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act.  These changes were designed to ensure that individuals with disabilities have access to information and services that will enable them to achieve competitive integrated employment.  Section 511 includes requirements for state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies, subminimum wage employers and local and/or state educational agencies, including specific requirements for youth prior to their participation in subminimum wage employment.

The law, regulations and policy:  http://www.wintac.org/topic-areas/implementation-of-requirements/laws-regs-and-policy

To file a complaint with the Wage and Hours Division: https://www.dol.gov/whd/howtofilecomplaint.htm

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Other Helpful Links:

FAQs on Section 511 – This page contains frequently asked questions and answers of Section 511 requirements.

Department of Labor Information for Workers with Disabilities – This page contains information and links for workers with disabilities and their family and guardians, to help them learn about their rights in the workplace.

Overview of the Section 511 requirements – This page contains Overview and Discussion of Federal Regulations on Section 511 and Limitations on Use of Subminimum Wage.

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Vocational Rehabilitation Services in Virginia

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services are designed to assist a person with a disability to overcome barriers to employment.  In Virginia, two state agencies are designated to provide these services: the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) and the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI).

These agencies offer an array of services to assist persons with disabilities.  We encourage you to explore their websites.

Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) – DARS offers employment services to help people with disabilities get ready for, find, and keep a job.

Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI) – DBVI is an agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia that is dedicated to its mission of providing services and resources which empower Virginians who are blind, vision impaired or deafblind to achieve their desired levels of employment, education, and personal independence.

Please note that the services of both agencies can begin during the school years and include transition planning.

The disAbility Law Center of Virginia (dLCV) provides the Client Assistance Program (CAP) for both agencies and for the Centers for Independent Living.

Client Assistance Program (CAP) Brochure – Client Assistance Program or CAP helps persons seeking information, applying for services, or receiving services from a Center for Independent Living (CIL) or vocational rehabilitation (VR) services from the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) or the Department of Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI).

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Employment Rights

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