- The U.S. Department of Labor can take up to two years to process new and renewal applications for certificates that permit employers to pay people with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
- The GAO report, published Jan. 25 but released Feb. 24, found that more than 120,000 employees were covered by these certificates and half made less than $3.50 per hour. The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division oversees the program by making sure employers correctly calculate workers’ wages but only processes 40% of applications within four months, the report said. GAO recommended DOL set and track timeliness goals for processing applications.
- “Significant delays raise concerns that employers with expired certificates could continue to operate while not meeting program requirements, such as by not paying commensurate wages,” the GAO report said. From August 2019 through December 2021, DOL found violations at most of the program employers it investigated and determined workers were owed $15 million in unpaid wages.
The GAO report comes as more states consider legislation to eliminate the subminimum wage. More than a dozen states, including Alaska, California and South Carolina, have already passed laws prohibiting subminimum wages for people with disabilities, according to a tracker by the Association of People Supporting Employment First, an organization that promotes the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace.
When Alaska passed a law prohibiting minimum wage exemptions for people with disabilities in February 2018, then-Acting Commissioner of the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development Greg Cashen said, “Workers who experience disabilities are valued members of Alaska’s workforce. They deserve minimum wage protections as much as any other Alaskan worker.”
There is also a federal push to ban the practice of offering lower wages to workers with disabilities. Days after the GAO report was released, a bipartisan group of U.S. Congress members introduced a bill to prevent employers from paying people with disabilities below the minimum wage.
“Paying workers less than the minimum wage is unacceptable. Everyone deserves to be paid a fair wage, and Americans with disabilities are no exception. This commonsense, bipartisan bill would lift up people with disabilities by raising their wages and creating competitive jobs in workplaces that employ both workers with and without disabilities,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said in a statement.