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Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first Federal law prohibiting discrimination against
individuals with disabilities. It became the foundation for later disability nondiscrimination laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
is the part of the Rehabilitation Act that applies to employers doing business with the Federal government as Federal contractors and subcontractors. It prohibits them from discriminating against
qualified individuals with disabilities
and requires that they take affirmative action to hire, retain, and promote qualified individuals with disabilities. Section 503 is enforced by the Department of Labor's (DOL's) Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
Other sections of the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination against qualified
individuals with disabilities in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs
receiving Federal financial assistance, and in Federal employment.
Who is Affected by Section 503
Covered Employers: Section 503 generally applies to all employers who have
a contract or subcontract with the Federal government that exceeds $10,000. Covered
employers that have 50 or more employees and a contract of $50,000 or more must
implement affirmative action programs (AAPs) that include additional employer responsibilities.
41 CFR 60-741.4 (regarding coverage) and
41 CFR 60-741.40 (regarding applicability of the AAP requirement). For
assistance in determining whether you are a covered employer, use the
Federal Contractor Compliance Advisor.
Protected Individuals: Section 503 protects qualified job applicants and
employees with disabilities. See
41 CFR 60-741.2(t).
Employer Responsibilities Under Section 503
Section 503 and its implementing regulations include specific requirements for covered
employers. Listed below are the key employer responsibilities under Section 503:
Section 503 and Other Federal Disability Nondiscrimination Laws
Most employers are covered by more than one Federal law prohibiting discrimination
against job applicants and employees with disabilities. For example, many Federal
contractors are covered by both Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title
I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as the Vietnam Era Veterans'
Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA).
The general principles underlying all the Federal disability nondiscrimination laws are consistent.
Therefore, complying with the disability-related obligations imposed under other Federal disability
nondiscrimination laws, such as the ADA or Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), will
not cause employers to violate the legal requirements imposed under Section 503 and will sometimes
actually satisfy those requirements. However, some of the disability-related requirements imposed by
Section 503 are more detailed and specific than those of the other disability nondiscrimination laws
and their implementing regulations. For example, Section 503, unlike other Federal disability
nondiscrimination laws, requires that certain government contractors establish affirmative action
Some state laws also mandate additional disability-related responsibilities for employers and/or
provide additional protections for job applicants and employees with disabilities. Therefore, employers
should familiarize themselves with all of the disability nondiscrimination requirements,
both Federal and state, that apply to their business or organization.
Applicable Law and Regulations
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