When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) came into effect in 1990, it provided legal protections to prevent discrimination in the workforce against workers with disabilities. There is one law that has not been repealed – the ability for employers to pay some workers with disabilities below the minimum wage. The government is now asking for feedback on this law in a national online dialogue.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), passed in 1938, provided protection for most workers across the country. Above all, it guaranteed a minimum wage. FLSA also contained another provision, Section 14 (C), that legalized the minimum wage for some people with disabilities. The original purpose of issuing 14 (C) Certificates was to provide a financial incentive for companies to “hire workers with disabilities who affect their productivity for the work being done”.
Nearly 100,000 workers with disabilities are paid under a 14 (C) waiver, according to a US Department of Labor database. Employers must submit an application to get approval to pay the minimum wage for employees – this is not available to every employer. A 14 (C) certificate does not allow an employer to pay a person with a disability at the minimum wage.
“Section 14 (C) does not apply unless the disability actually affects the worker’s income or ability to produce the work to be performed,” stated a Ministry of Labor fact sheet. “The fact that an employee may have a disability is in and of itself insufficient to justify paying a minimum wage.”
To qualify for a 14 (C) waiver, employers must calculate the time it takes for an employee without a disability to complete a task compared to an employee with a disability. For example, if it took a non-disabled worker five minutes to assemble a part at $ 12 an hour and a disabled worker three times as long to assemble the same part under Section 14 (C), the employer could legally pay the disabled worker three times less or $ 4 an hour. Research by NBC News found that at one location, workers were paid just $ 0.22 an hour. The current federal minimum wage is $ 7.25 per hour.
However, provision 14 (C) of the Labor Code is often vulnerable to exploitation by companies with bad actors. For example, in 2018, the Department of Labor revoked the 14 (C) Certificate from Rock River Valley Self Help Enterprises in Illinois. An investigation found that nearly 250 employees with disabilities were exploited. After a few shifts, self-help paid employees with gift cards rather than a paycheck.
Employment has long been a difficult issue for advocates of disability. In 2016, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that about 18 percent of people with disabilities were employed, compared with 65 percent of people without disabilities. In a 2017 report by the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center for Disability Statistics and Demography, the mean annual salary of people with disabilities was found to be a third less than that of people without disabilities. More than 20 percent of people with disabilities are considered low-income.
There are other factors that can lock people with disabilities into low-income or low-paying jobs. Karin Willison, The Mighty’s Disability Editor, pointed out that critical disability benefits like Supplemental Safety Income (SSI) and Medicaid coverage require you to have assets of less than $ 2,000 if you are single and $ 3,000 as a couple. This makes it more difficult for people with disabilities who want to work.
Another part of the problem, according to Vox, is that society has historically had low expectations for people with disabilities. People with disabilities are often segregated into jobs such as “sheltered workshops” (now classified as “work centers”), where only workers with disabilities are employed to perform minor tasks, pay a minimum wage and possibly offer rehabilitation or qualification training. Jobs are just one type of employer that can qualify for a 14 (C) certificate.
Thanks largely to disabled advocates campaigning for inclusion, Vox found that the attitudes of people with disabilities who are unable or need to be separated are gradually changing. The Department of Labor’s Department of Labor’s National Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) online dialogue on Section 14 (C) is a step in reassessing employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
The online forum asks for feedback on the stakeholder experience in Section 14 (C) and ideas for the future of fair labor standards for people with disabilities. With a variety of stakeholders – people with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities, and 14 (C) employers – the forum has sparked numerous debates. Several commentators have called for Section 14 (C) to be deleted. KTRights wrote:
It is time for a complete phase out of the use of 14 (c) certificates and a minimum wage for ALL people with disabilities. Why are people with disabilities the only population that can receive less than the minimum wage and this is considered acceptable? We will never have equal rights or be considered for competitive, integrated employment unless the federal government changes an archaic law of 1938 that completely devalues people with disabilities.
Visit the Department of Labor’s national online dialogue forum here to share your feedback on Section 14 (C) and Fair Labor Standards for People with Disabilities.
This article originally appeared on The Mighty. You can read it here.