Submit Your Comments on Community Employment and Equal Pay

June 14, 2019 / sheltered workshops

The U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Office of Disability Employment Policy is seeking comments from the disability community about Section 14(c) of the Fair labor Standards Act, which allows for subminimum wages for people with disabilities and the use of sheltered workshops.

What is Section 14(c)?

When the minimum wage was passed in 1938, the law contained one specific exemption - Section 14(c) - which allowed some workers, specifically people with disabilities, to be paid less than minimum wage.

This provision was originally designed to persuade employers to hire people with disabilities and open up opportunities. Instead, people with disabilities have often been employed in "sheltered workshops," segregated workplaces away from their communities, earning less than minimum wage. Eighty-one years later, 14(c) remains in effect.

How to Submit Comments

Anyone is welcome to participate in this national online dialogue before June 21. Right now, we have heard that DOL has not heard from many advocates and people with disabilities about their right to fair wages and the segregation of 14(c) workshops. Your voice is needed!

If you'd like to submit your own comments but aren't sure where to start, here's some help:

  1. Learn more about Section 14(c) in the Rooted in Rights documentary Bottom Dollars (which also features DRO!)
  2. Read about employment options from #WorkWithUs, a coalition of 25 organizations working to expand competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities
  3. Watch this tutorial from the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) that shows you how to submit your comments to the Section 14(c) National Online Dialogue.
  4. Revisit some of DRO's work to win fair wages for our clients in our Seneca case:

While advocating for three clients who worked in a sheltered workshop, DRO discovered that the 14(c) certificate held by our clients' employer categorically identified all employees as having a diagnosis of "MR." Setting aside the use of this inappropriate and antiquated term, we were alarmed by such a broad and sweeping characterization of the employees covered by the certificate, especially since two of our clients did not have any diagnosis of an intellectual disability. In their review, the Wage and Hour Division of the DOL later found that none of the clients we represented could be paid subminimum wage because the 14c employee could not demonstrate that our clients were "disabled for the work performed." Indeed, our clients were often times more productive than the "standard setter"-the baseline set by the employer of a theoretical person without a disability that is used to compute a sub-minimum "piece-rate" wage.

The findings by the DOL's Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) illustrate the flaws with using a production based standard to evaluate whether a person with a disability should be paid at least the minimum wage. Employees perform at varying rates for a variety of reasons. As the ALJ found, production standards might not be met for other reasons than disability-he found it was just as likely that their productivity could be negatively impacted by boredom with a highly repetitive task, or because "they lacked a substantial economic impetus to perform at a higher level."

In addition problems with over application of certificates leading to unfair wages for people with disabilities, many employers with 14(c) certificates have only limited work options, many of which may not be compatible to that individual's abilities. Just like the rest of us, people with disabilities have varying abilities and when given meaningful opportunities to explore employment that fits their abilities outside 14(c) system-when they are no longer bored, unchallenged, and lacking "substantial economic impetus-they thrive. Many people, including parents, loved ones, and even former 14(c) employers, are happily surprised at such outcomes.

Read a full copy of DRO's comments to the Department of Labor here.

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