Does Goodwill Exploit Mentally Handicapped Employees?

A recent controversy concerning how Goodwill pays disabled employees working in its stores has some civil rights activists up in arms. According to a recent piece in the Huffington Post, Goodwill pays some of these disabled workers as little as 22 and 41 cents an hour.

The Special Wage Certificate Program was passed into law in 1938 and encourages charities and non-profits to hire disabled workers, and with certificates from the U.S. Department of Labor, they are exempt from minimum wage laws. Goodwill claims it makes decisions about what to pay employees on an individual basis.

“While it is quite easy to look at this provision quickly and ask why people with disabilities should be paid less than other workers, the truth is this certificate allows Goodwill and many other employers to provide opportunities for people with severe disabilities who otherwise might not be part of the workforce,” wrote Goodwill CEO Jim Gibbons. Gibbons earned $729,000 in salary and bonuses in 2011. “The wage earned is only part of the benefit of Goodwill’s use of the certificate. We welcome conversation that creates more opportunity for people with disabilities.”

While it is great that Goodwill and other employers offer opportunities to disabled workers, the Department of Labor must ensure that these workers are not being exploited. If the disabled workers are expected to perform similar duties to other employees, they should be eligible to receive at least minimum wage.

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Did you know: The employment rate for disabled Americans between ages 20 and 24 is just 32 percent.

Kesluk, Silverstein & Jacob—Los Angeles employment lawyers