Almost a century ago, in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act established the right to a minimum wage and overtime pay for working Americans. But the act carved out one segment of the population from the wage standard: individuals with disabilities.
That section of the law, known as 14(c), is still in place today. Over generations, it’s hardened into a United States workforce system that directs people with disabilities onto a distinct path, keeping them separate from their so-called “typical” peers.
Under the law, qualifying employers can pay workers “whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by age, physical or mental deficiency, or injury” less than the minimum wage for the work they perform. Earlier versions of the law established a wage floor of 75% and later 50% of federal minimum wage. Today, there is no wage floor for individuals with disabilities working for employers who hold what are known as “14(c) certificates.” Many earn less than $3.50 an hour.
Employers can set a disabled employee’s wage based on the individual’s productive capacity for a specific job, relative to other individuals performing the same task.
The labor department’s certificate application includes “wage calculators,” where employers enter the amount of time it takes a “standard setter” to complete a given task and the amount of time it takes a worker with a disability to complete the same task.
And it’s common for certificate holders to provide those jobs on teams or in workplaces set apart from non-disabled colleagues — separate and not equal.
“The country and its public institutions are still grappling with the reality that full inclusion is more than mere physical proximity in the community, it is also economic,” the National Council on Disability wrote in a recent report.