Flexible pay keeps opportunities open for disabled workers

On April 23rd, a group of United States senators sent a letter to U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Alexander Acosta demanding information on DOL’s supervision of employers granted “14(c) waivers.”

The letter explains that, pursuant to Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, DOL may issue waiver certificates to eligible employers that allow them to pay workers “whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by age, physical or mental deficiency” a ”special minimum wage” that is lower than the federal minimum wage. The letter implies that DOL may not be doing enough to “prevent employers’ mistreatment of and discrimination against workers with disabilities.”

It is admirable that these lawmakers seek to investigate the potential abuse of highly vulnerable members of the workforce. Indeed, individuals with intellectual disabilities are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment and might therefore benefit greatly from a government guardian. Moreover, workers with mental or physical disabilities may be more reluctant than their colleagues without disabilities to report mistreatment because of limited communication abilities or fear of greater abuse or isolation. The desire to root out all instances of abuse is appropriate and honorable, and DOL should maintain a zero-tolerance policy for such behavior.

However, DOL should not acquiesce to the letter’s additional proposal that the waivers be “phased out” altogether. Far from protecting workers with disabilities, this regulatory approach will likely deprive them of employment opportunities.

The letter’s signatories claim that the exemptions should be phased out because they are “inherently discriminatory.” The thrust of their argument is that it is harmful to disabled workers to pay them at a rate commensurate with their productive capacity if that wage rate is lower than the federal minimum wage. The aim is commendable, but reality may not cooperate.

Read more of this The Hill op-ed by Devon Westhill by clicking here.

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