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Department of Labor Considering Eliminating Employers’ Ability to Pay People With Disabilities Below Minimum Wage

It's about time

2023 is almost over, and instead of flying cars, we have a 1930s-era program that allows businesses to pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage.

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Last month, however, the U.S. Department of Labor suggested it would be reviewing the Section 14(c) program that has allowed employers to gain certificates granting them the legal right to pay disabled persons less than minimum wage (right now, that’s just $7.25 per hour) for almost the last 100 years. 

“We are launching a comprehensive review of the Section 14(c) program to re-examine its use and future viability,” wrote Taryn M. Williams, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy, in a post on the U.S. Department of Labor’s blog. The post marked 50 years since the passage of the Rehabilitation Act in 1973, and the intention to review its progress and weak points.

Nowhere has the Department of Labor said exactly what they will cover and what they will do with the results of a “comprehensive review” of their disability-related practices. But in a relatively worker-friendly administration, the landscape is more hopeful than it has been in recent years.

The biggest news is probably just the fact that the Labor Department has publicly announced that it’s willing to change and that it wants the public’s feedback in order to do so. As part of the “comprehensive review” of its policies around disability, the department is about to hold the first of “a series of stakeholder engagement sessions” where officials are asking to hear from workers with disabilities who have experienced being paid less than minimum wage. 

“During the session, we welcome your input on important areas of focus for reviewing the 14(c) program, experiences with options for competitive integrated employment (CIE), lessons from states that have expanded CIE and/or prohibited subminimum wages, impacts of potentially ceasing to issue 14(c) certificates in the future, and any related issues,” a representative for the Labor Department said, according to Disability Scoop. “The department is interested in hearing the experiences of workers with disabilities, so we encourage worker advocates to include these examples in their remarks or to invite workers with disabilities to come share their stories directly.”

As reported by Disability Scoop, the review of the Section 14(c) program was brought on by complaints from disability advocates, the Government Accountability Office, the National Council on Disability, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and the Labor Department’s Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment, among a dozen concerned disability advocacy groups earlier this year.

(featured image: Getty Images)

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Cammy Pedroja
Author and independent journalist since 2015. Frequent contributor of news and commentary on social justice, politics, culture, and lifestyle to publications including The Mary Sue, Newsweek, Business Insider, Slate, Women, USA Today, and Huffington Post. Lover of forests, poetry, books, champagne, and trashy TV.