Preserving Employment Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities

The Coalition for the Preservation of Employment Choice, Inc. is a coalition of families, caregivers, and other stakeholders working to preserve employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Special wage certificates have expanded access and job training for people who benefit from this disability accommodation. These highly regulated programs allow qualified employers the flexibility to pay wages commensurate with individual productivity and other factors, expanding the number and diversity of jobs available and increasing opportunities to transition into competitive employment. This option also allows people who might otherwise never have the opportunity to work to have the choice to perform a job at their own unique ability and pace in a supportive, developmentally appropriate environment. The Coalition believes that everyone, regardless of ability, should have the right to work if they so choose. It is also acknowledged that a competitive employment setting is not always the safest, most desirable, or successful option for all people. There are several funding, policy, and legislative initiatives that are currently pushing for elimination of special wages, which will reduce employment opportunities for this population.

Special Wages

Like any good legislation, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), has stood the test of time. Section 14(c) permits the Department of Labor (DOL) to issue certificates, commonly referred to as “Section 14(c) Certificates” or “Special Wage Certificates”, to licensed employers, allowing flexibility to provide compensation that is commensurate with prevailing wages, based primarily on productivity and work completion. The majority of these employers are nonprofit agencies that specifically provide a desired service to people with disabilities. Without this flexibility, it is not feasible for employers to hire individuals who are unable to perform a job at an average or better capacity. Working for special wages is an informed choice. People who choose this option are always provided the opportunity to pursue competitive employment. By law, employers are required to pay minimum wage or higher to individuals who perform their work at an average productivity rate. Many employees may start off with a lower wage, but over a period of time develop skills that bring them closer to or above minimum wage productivity. Periodic and highly regulated performance evaluations determine wage rates.

Employment Tailored to a Person’s Needs

Section 14(c) aims to “prevent curtailment of opportunities for employment” for individuals with disabilities by allowing covered employers to offer diverse work opportunities that align with each individual’s preferences, goals, and skill level. Individuals who obtain employment through certificate holders often have cognitive, behavioral, and other impairments that require specialized accommodations and other support systems for them to achieve their vocational and daily living goals. The certificates expand access to employment for those who would not have access to or have the ability to retain competitive employment.

Many individuals require a specialized, supportive work environment with trained support staff to be successful employees. Certificate holders who offer center-based employment settings can tailor jobs and job settings to meet unique needs; provide trained, consistent supervisory staff; provide opportunities for day activity, fitness, and social activities with peers and other co-workers; and offer career counseling and specialized job training. These program options can help people reach their full potential and bring purpose into their lives. Most programs also provide job coaching and support for competitive work and/or options to participate in a hybrid program of both competitive and noncompetitive employment and/or day activity programming. The Coalition recognizes that one-size does NOT fit all when it comes to disability support services. A wide range of special needs requires a wide range of employment choices.

Preserving Employment Opportunities
The Coalition for the Preservation of Employment Choice, Inc. supports the elimination of barriers to employment and the expansion of employment opportunities for all. As policy makers consider proposals for supporting individuals with disabilities and expanding CIE (Competitive Integrated Employment), they should not be allowed to dismiss those who may not have access to or have the ability to retain competitive employment. Eliminating Section 14(c) would effectively reduce the number and diversity of employment opportunities available. All people, regardless of ability, should have the right to work.