Great strides have been made in the last 30 years to eradicate discrimination against people with disabilities. If the proposed version of the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 becomes law, another vestige of legally allowable discrimination against workers with disabilities will be gone, as the law will eliminate the ability of employers to pay people with disabilities subminimum wages. Whenever you think you’ve been the target of disability discrimination at work, you should seek out a knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney for answers to the questions you have.
The move to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour has been in the headlines a lot recently. The State of New Jersey already has a $15-per-hour minimum wage law on the books. That law makes the state minimum wage $12 per hour for 2021, $13 for 2022, $14 for 2023, and $15 for 2024.
What that state law didn’t do, however, was end the practice of allowing employers to pay people with disabilities subminimum wages. That practice began in 1938 when the federal government enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act, which created the first federally-mandated minimum wage.
That federal law also included a provision – Section 14(c) – that permitted employers to apply for a certificate that allows them to pay subminimum wages to people with disabilities. That section, according to the statute, was designed to “prevent curtailment of opportunities for employment.”
The National Disability Rights Network says that there are more than 500,000 people with disabilities earning less than minimum wage while working at jobs where the employer has obtained a Section 14(c) certificate.
According to a 2020 report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Section 14(c) is antiquated. While the original intent may have been to encourage employers to hire people with disabilities when they otherwise would not have done so, the law as enforced today is discriminatory and the certificate program is “rife with abuse,” the report said.
It is also, according to the commission, based upon an outdated and flawed assumption; namely, that workers with disabilities are less productive than workers without disabilities. Some research has actually shown the opposite. A 2003 study of a bank’s call center showed that the call center had a retention rate of 92% among its workers with disabilities, as opposed to 55% among its workers without disabilities.
So… how would this change in the law work?
The change would entail repealing Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, thereby ending the certificate program that currently legalizes subminimum wages for workers with disabilities. Generally, anyone paying subminimum wages after the revocation of the section would necessarily be in violation of federal law.
Some states, like New Hampshire, Maryland, and Alaska have already done away with the practice of allowing payment of subminimum wages, and others are debating it. Currently, no such proposal is on the books or under consideration in New Jersey.
People with disabilities know all too well the pain and damage that comes from workplace discrimination, including discrimination when it comes to the wages they receive. If you’ve suffered that kind of harm, you need a trusted resource to provide you with useful advice and powerful advocacy. Count on the experienced workplace discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates to be that sort of advocate for you. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.