NDRN, DOL team up to tackle subminimum wage certificate enforcement

Head and shoulders shot of Curtis Decker, smiling
Curt Decker, CEO of NDRN

The National Disability Rights Network and the Department of Labor announced a new agreement December 16, which aims to prevent employers from exploiting an exception in federal labor law that allows them to pay certain workers subminimum wages.

“NDRN is pleased to enter into this agreement with the Wage and Hour Division to achieve our joint goal of protecting the rights of workers with disabilities,” NDRN Executive Director Curt Decker said in a news release. “NDRN believes that by utilizing the resources, expertise, and federal mandate of the (protection and advocacy) system to protect and advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities, employers who fail to adhere to the requirements of the section 14(c) certificates will be more readily discovered.”

Pursuant to Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers may obtain special wage certificates, allowing them to pay certain workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage. These employers are subject to a variety of requirements. Specifically, they must demonstrate that their employee’s disabilities limit their ability to perform assigned tasks and provide an objective measurement of their salary, among other caveats.

Although the law was originally enacted to assist people deemed unemployable due to their disabilities, it widely viewed as exploitative by disability rights advocates. In some cases, these businesses, known by their critics as “sheltered workshops,” have been found to abuse workers, steal Social Security disability checks, and refuse to pay overtime, most notably in the case of the Iowa-based Henry’s Turkey Services.

For years, NDRN, the umbrella organization for the nation’s federally mandated, state-level protection and advocacy agencies, has made the task of monitoring these subminimum wage certificates a top priority. It released its influential “Segregated and Exploited” report of sheltered workshops in 2011, followed by an updated report the next year.

In 2014, it launched a Wage and Hour Complaint Initiative, encouraging P&As to file complaints with the DOL against exploitative employers. Disability Rights Oregon has since reached a settlement to reform Oregon’s sheltered workshops and Disability Rights Ohio petitioned the DOL to review a local county’s certificate, among other efforts.

Under the new agreement, NDRN and DOL have agreed to collaborate to crack down on potentially exploitative employers.

Specifically, they seek to improve their sharing of information and to exchange information about laws, regulations and other essential information for protecting employees working at subminimum wages.

Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, is the designated protection and advocacy agency in Washington, and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.