DOL: Employer Exploited 250 Workers with Disabilities, Including Paying Them in Gift Cards

By Sahid Fawaz

There are bad employers. And then there are unconscionable ones.

The Department of Labor is investigating one that seems to fit squarely in the latter category.

The DOL released the following statement:

“Consistent with its mission to protect the American workforce, the U.S. Department of Labor has revoked Rock River Valley Self Help Enterprises, Inc.’s certificate under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) after finding nearly 250 workers with disabilities were being exploited.

Section 14(c) of the FLSA is designed to offer more job opportunities for workers with disabilities when their disability affects their productive capacity for the work being performed. After applying for and receiving a certificate from the Department’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), the employer may gauge their hourly workers’ productivity and calculate the appropriate sub-minimum wage as a percentage of the rate for experienced workers performing similar jobs in the area under the Section 14(c) provisions.

The WHD investigation revealed a failure to timely perform appropriate wage surveys and failure to conduct proper time studies on all jobs performed by workers with disabilities. The investigation also revealed that the employer attempted to mislead and obstruct WHD’s investigation by concealing relevant information from WHD during the investigation, hiding work that the employer had not time studied but had the workers perform. On some weekends, Self Help unlawfully paid workers with gift cards instead of wages.

The nature of these violations, coupled with Self Help’s repeated failure to demonstrate current compliance with the law—despite being provided guidance and numerous opportunities to do so—led WHD to revoke the employer’s Section 14(c) certificate, effective immediately and retroactively. WHD also denied Self Help’s pending applications to renew their certificate. Absent this certificate, Self Help must pay all current workers at least the full federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.  In addition, Self Help must pay back wages to all workers who performed work at the subminimum wage over the last two years.  These determinations may be appealed to the WHD Administrator.”

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