Proposed Changes to Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

Comments sought for what would be the first substantial changes since 1999

By Kathy Gurchiek Feb 8, 2016
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Certain covered employers will need to make sure they are complying with the broadened scope of nondiscrimination coverage under substantial changes that have been proposed to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Civil Rights Center is proposing the changes to bring regulations, last updated in 1999, in line with developments in equal employment opportunity and nondiscrimination laws.

The DOL wants to make sure all applicants—including people with disabilities, people with limited English proficiency, and people who are part of groups that may face discrimination such as transgender individuals, pregnant women or people with medical conditions—have access to activities offered through the One-Stop workforce development system.

Affected employers would be obligated, under the updated regulations, to “make sure their outreach and recruitment materials are compliant with the broadened scope of nondiscrimination coverage,” said Camille Olson, an attorney at Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago who chairs the firm’s complex employment litigation team.

For example, under the proposed regulations, an equal employment opportunity notice or poster must include a parenthetical note that sex as a prohibited basis for discrimination includes discrimination due to pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions, sex stereotyping, transgender status, and gender identity.

The DOL noted in the Jan. 26 issue of the Federal Register, where the proposed regulations were published, that pregnancy discrimination “remains a significant issue.” Additionally, it reported that a review of family responsibility discrimination cases—brought by men as well as women—indicated that low-income workers face “extreme hostility to pregnancy.”

“The workforce development system is the pipeline through which many women find employment opportunities, and thus these programs must operate free of pregnancy discrimination,” the DOL said.

Additionally, Olson noted that the changes “would impose obligations on covered employers to make sure that their outreach and recruitment materials are compliant with the broadened scope of nondiscrimination coverage.” And employers would need to make benefits, services and training—including the use of computer-based and Internet-based systems—accessible to program participants, such as those with limited English proficiency.

For job seekers, Olson said the proposed changes mean they should be aware that the WIOA exists to help eligible candidates with employment, education, training and support services, and that those providing such services are prohibited from discriminating against individuals using those programs.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez noted that the nation’s workforce system should reflect a commitment to diversity.

“This proposed rule provides welcome clarity on how to achieve that in the workforce system,” he said in a news release.

These changes, if finalized, are substantive, Olson said.

Bear in mind that the proposed rule has limited reach, as Section 188 of WIOA prohibits discrimination against individuals, including certain employees, in any program or activity that receives financial assistance under Title I of the WIOA, as well as One-Stop partners that offer programs through the One-Stop/American Job Center workforce development system. It does not apply to a wide swath of employers.

Public comments may be submitted, identified by Regulatory Information Number 1291-AA36, using any one of the following methods:

  • The federal e-rulemaking portal at Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
  • Fax: 202-693-6505 (for comments of six pages or less).
  • Mail or hand delivery/courier: Naomi Barry-Perez, Director, Civil Rights Center, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Room N-4123, Washington, D.C. 20210.
  • E-mail at

March 28 is the deadline for submitting comments.

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her

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