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Disability discrimination in New York follows out-of-date law

New York is just one of the states in the country whose disabled workers are being subjected to unfair labor practices under an antiquated law that has not been updated to reflect the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

As New York and other major cities across the nation have participated in protests to raise minimum wage, their efforts have been paying off. One group neglected in this victory has been disabled Americans.

In 1938 Congress passed legislation that exempted disabled individuals from the minimum wage requirement. It also passed a 14c exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act, permitting employers to waive the obligation to pay disabled workers the federally established minimum wage. This was based on the theory that a disabled worker is simply not able to produce the same quality work as a non-disabled employee. Instead they were relegated to a commensurate wage.

While the original bill was passed 76 years ago, ADA advocates contend that at the time, work discrimination was rampant and there were no political activists wishing to promote empowerment of disabled individuals.

One blind client advocate for the New York Office for People With Developmental Disabilities reported he was subjected to 14c in the 1990s, and only made $4 for two weeks' work of 7-hour days. He had to resort to his social security checks to pay the rent. Not all disabled individuals have that option.

Given that 14c was enacted to allow disabled individuals the chance to transition into the mainstream workforce, studies show that less than 5 percent are ever able to do that. One advocacy spokesperson maintains disabled workers should not be exempted from minimum wage laws. Another nonprofit organization dedicated to employment of the disabled disagrees, claiming a commensurate wage provision could facilitate access to alternative work options and training leading to more productive outcomes. This promotes organizations to redirect attention to what disable people can do, rather than on their limitations.

Employers are not allowed to engage in disability discrimination, pursuant to The Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations so a disabled employee can perform his or her job. In spite of this federal law, discrimination against the disabled is still taking place. Any employee suspecting he or she has been subjected to discrimination at the workplace should investigate his or her rights under the law.

Source: Fortune, "Disabled workers left in the cold on minimum wage" Claire Zillman, Feb. 12, 2014

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