The conference attendance included approximately 270 attendees, 26 exhibitors, 6 preconference sessions, 7 general sessions, 20 concurrent sessions, 1 keynote speaker, and 1 motivational speaker.
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) also attended.
Melissa Speer, Regional Director of OFCCP for SWARM, addressed the audience in the opening ceremony by summarizing OFCCP's statistics on enforcement:
- In 2010, OFCCP changed its enforcement protocol to improve the way we conduct compliance evaluations. We included more thorough desk audits; we are conducting more frequent onsites; and our reviews are focused on areas in types of discrimination that we have not previously focused on.
So just by example, on average for those years, we call it fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2013, we closed on average 4,202 reviews. Of those compliance evaluations, 1,035 - on average - ended in a conciliation agreement. Our compliance with violation findings increased from 14% from the previous years to 27% in 2009 through 2013. Evaluations with Section 503 [of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973] and VEVRAA [Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act], those violations increased from 2% - for Section 503 – to 10%, and in VEVRAA, it increased from 5% to 17%. So, we are citing and finding more violations under those two regulations.
One interesting thing when it came to evaluations with discrimination findings, we still hover around 2%. The number of workers receiving back pay - very very close - 17,875 on average. And the average back pay that we get in these years is a little over $10 million. In the previous years, it was $9.6 million. So, they are very very close in the two different administrations.
- For the first time ever, there is a targeted hiring goal for veterans and a utilization goal for individuals with disabilities. Any good business leader knows what gets measured gets done. To that end, the Section 503 rule establishes an aspirational 7% utilization goal for the employment of qualified individuals with disabilities in each job category of the contactor's workforce. The VEVRAA rule establishes a national benchmark currently at 7.2 [percent] or you can choose a more flexible option that has five different factors that you can use to come up with your own benchmark.
By our estimation, if every contractor – subject to these rules – were to achieve the metrics we established, nearly 600,000 people with disabilities and more than 200,000 veterans would be added or identified in the American workforce, and that's just in the first year.
And so that we're clear and because words matter, both the disability goal and the veteran benchmark are aspirational. Contrary to what observers have said, they are absolutely not mandatory quotas. Rather, they are management tools to inform your decision making and provide real accountability for your managers. The goal is a means to an end. It is not the end - in all - of itself. If the metrics are not achieved, contractors will be expected to examine their policies and practices to determine where impediments to equal opportunity exist and to develop a plan to address these deficiencies.
This is very important. Failure to hit the goal is not a violation. Failure to try is.
The concurrent session speakers covered a range of topics and included professionals from the OFCCP, EEOC, ODEP, consulting firms, law firms, human resources solutions, and employer associations.
Hot topics included sessions on the revised disability and veteran regulations; compensation and steering; affirmative action planning; OFCCP trends and court decisions; tests and screening practices; and recent OFCCP developments. Other topics were commonplace and covered audits; metrics; and hiring processes.
Melissa Speer, Regional Director of OFCCP, and Aida Collins, Director at the U.S. Department of Labor participated in a panel and below are some questions and answers learned from their session.
- Question: If the employer distributes hardcopies of the self-identification disability form, can the employer include an employee identification number on a cover memo and attach it to the form since the utilization goal is per job group, and we want to receive credit where appropriate?
Answer: We aren't sure, and we hope to get an answer put on the OFCCP's FAQs. But keep in mind, the actual form cannot be altered, so it needs to be on a memo that is attached to the disability form, which the employee fills out.
- Question: If the employer can tell a person has a disability, but chooses to not self-identity, what can we do?
Answer: If you receive an accommodation request, you can surmise the person has a disability and document the accommodation. But keep in mind, you are not allowed to guess or change an individual's form; rather, you should document your accommodation only.
- Question: If our system has employees login to update their self-identification disability forms, which includes their name and employee identification upon login, is it acceptable to auto-fill that information into the form?
Answer: As long as you are not altering the form itself, then it should be okay. But again, we are not entirely certain and hope to get an answer put on the OFCCP's FAQs.
The conference included a keynote session from the U.S. Department of Labor Office of the Solicitor – Regional Solicitor of Labor – Civil Rights Counsel, Robert Beal and Francesca Cheroutes, Esq.
Beal and Cheroutes stressed that compensation is going to be a significant focus in 2014 as April 8, 2014 was National Equal Pay Day. They showed a video from Ted.com/talk about two monkeys that noticed an inequity when being paid with different food after completing the same task. Beal and Cheroutes stressed that the intrinsic action the monkeys expressed when being paid differently is analogous with the inequity in pay that some workers may also experience.
Beal and Cheroutes also said that employers need to be aware of steering issues in employment. Steering issues potentially occur when employers indirectly or directly push candidates into certain positions based on characteristics. For example, perhaps male and female applicants are interested in valet jobs, but after a review, it is determined that valet jobs tend to be more male dominated while the cashier jobs tend to be more female dominated. This is considered suspect and may likely be due to steering. Employers need to be aware of this and avoid steering practices as it can be linked to compensation issues because statistically valet positions tend to earn a higher compensation than cashier positions since valets earn tips.
The SWARM conference is typically hosted every other year. However, the 2016 conference is cancelled because San Antonio is hosting the ILG National Conference in 2017.
Even so, keep an eye out for the Pacific ILG Conference. It is comparable to the SWARM ILG Conference and is expected to occur in March or April of 2015.
Lastly, the 2014 Annual ILG National Conference's premise is "Celebrate 50 Years of Civil Rights - Learn from the Legacy, While Focusing on the Future." It is scheduled for August 5 to August 8, 2014 in Washington, D.C. at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park. You can learn more at the 2014 ILG National Conference event summary.
That is it for the 2014 SWARM ILG Conference round-up. For questions or comments regarding this article, please email me at Jacquelyn.Peterson@LocalJobNetwork.com.