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How Goodwill exploits disabled workers—and does so legally

We’ve talked in previous post about federal statutes that protect certain classes of workers from discrimination. In today’s post, we discuss the shortcomings of these laws with respect to the disabled workforce.

Under federal law, an employer may not discriminate against a mentally or physically impaired employee on the basis of their disability. A disability is not a reason for an employee to be passed over for hiring or promotion. However, when it comes to wage discrimination, the lines become a bit blurred.

Federal wage law for disabled employees

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects against wage discrimination. It states that if a disabled employee requires reasonable accommodation—for example, a certain type of computer designed for someone with a visual impairment—an employer may not reduce that employee’s pay to cover those expenses. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), an employer may not pay a disabled employee less than a commensurate employee simply because of the disability.

However, if an employer can demonstrate that their disabled employee is less productive than a commensurate employee without disabilities, then the employer may reduce the disabled employee’s pay—and they may legally pay such an employee less than the minimum wage.

Room for exploitation

A national investigation into Goodwill—a chain of thrift stores known for hiring mentally and physically disabled employees—found that the organization routinely pays its disabled employees well below the minimum wage—often less than $1 per hour. In Fort Worth, two Goodwill stores were found to be paying their employees under 10 cents per hour.

If you believe you’re being unpaid by your employer due to your disability, it’s important to consult with an experienced employment law attorney about your case. Just because you have a disability does not mean you are entitled to lower pay. And while pay reductions for employees with disabilities can be legal in some cases, the extent of the reduction should be critically investigated to prevent employee exploitation. If you’re being paid unfairly, you could be entitled to compensation.

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