On December 19, 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) published a final rule updating the guidelines that dictate how employers ensure equal employment opportunity in apprenticeship programs. These updated regulations are intended to help businesses reach larger and more diverse groups of workers, and expand protected bases beyond race, color, religion, national origin, and sex to include disability, age, sexual orientation, and genetic information.
The Registered Apprenticeship system is a program established by the DOL and administered nationally by the Office of Apprenticeship and independent State Apprenticeship Agencies. The program combines job-related instruction with on-the-job learning, with the goal of helping employers build qualified workforces while simultaneously providing opportunities for workers seeking highly-skilled jobs. The programs consist of written plans that move an apprentice from an entry-level position to a fully proficient employee within a timeframe of one to six years. Once apprentices complete the program, they receive a nationally recognized credential that certifies their proficiency and can help them achieve upward mobility within the workforce.
The EEO regulations for apprenticeship were last published in 1978, and the updated regulations go into effect on January 18, 2017. The final rules apply to all sponsors of apprenticeship programs registered with the DOL or a State Apprenticeship Agency. Sponsor companies involved in the Registered Apprenticeship program have always been required to maintain Affirmative Action Programs (AAPs) with regards to race, sex, and ethnicity, and the new regulations add AAP obligations for Individuals with Disabilities (IWD).
The DOL has developed a phased-in compliance schedule, which allows existing and new sponsors to come into compliance with the new requirements over a two-year period. Existing sponsor companies have 180 days post-effective date to update and disseminate equal opportunity pledges, begin universal outreach efforts to protected groups, and implement anti-harassment measures. Within two years, they must disseminate a one-time invitation to self-identify disability status to all current apprentices, and begin disability self-identification at the pre- and post-offer stage. Within this same two-year period, covered sponsors must draft written AAPs that comply with the new rules, conduct the initial workforce analysis for race/sex and IWD, and complete an initial review of personnel processes. They must annually update their list of recruitment sources and update their AAP and workforce analysis at each compliance review, or every three years if no compliance review is conducted. Availability analyses and the establishment of utilization goals are only completed during compliance reviews.
The DOL has provided an ‘EEO in Apprenticeship Compliance Timetable’ to assist employers in understanding their obligations under the new rule. This resource, as well as a series of frequently asked questions, can be found here.