The EEOC has issued a final rule, although not effective until January 2018, stating that federal agencies must adopt employment goals for individuals with disabilities—with sub-goals for individuals with targeted disabilities—provide personal assistance services to certain employees who need them because of a disability, and meet a number of other requirements designed to improve the recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement of individuals with disabilities in the federal workforce.

Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to engage in affirmative action for people with disabilities, but does not explain what “affirmative action” means, the EEOC said. “The Commission determined that stronger regulations were needed to enhance the employment, retention and promotion of qualified individuals with disabilities in the federal government. The final rule gathers together existing requirements from several executive orders as well as EEOC directives and other EEOC guidance documents, and adds new requirements that will further improve federal employment of individuals with disabilities and individuals with ‘targeted disabilities,” the EEOC said.

The rule’s definition of “disability” is the same as under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is read broadly to include various kinds of mental and physical medical conditions, which do not have to be permanent or severe to qualify, the EEOC said. “Targeted” disabilities are a subset including various developmental and physical disabilities, disfigurement, certain psychiatric disorders and other specified categories.

The standards for determining whether a federal agency has discriminated on the basis of disability are the same ones that apply under the ADA, it added.

“Affirmative action for people with disabilities is not illegal. An employer is allowed to hire someone because he or she has a disability, and a rejected applicant cannot sue an employer for discrimination based on the fact that he or she does not have a disability,” it added.