This week witnessed an important development in protecting the rights of workers and job seekers with significant disabilities. As the assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, I applaud the decision of the department’s Wage and Hour Division to revoke all special minimum wage certificates issued to a Rhode Island disability services provider for numerous legal violations and to require fair payment for affected workers with disabilities.
The decision followed a Wage and Hour Division investigation that found workers were not being paid for all hours worked, and that the company had failed to determine the appropriate wage for each worker as required by law. What’s more, the company had falsified documents in order to mislead investigators.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights has also negotiated a legal agreement between the city of Providence and two additional entities in the state to transition individuals with significant disabilities into integrated employment and community-based day services. Thursday’s announcements by the Wage and Hour Division and the Justice Department support an evolving collaborative model between our government’s enforcement entities to ensure that the rights of workers and job seekers with disabilities are protected and their access to integrated employment and other community-based supports are encouraged.
We all have a collective responsibility to ensure that youth and adults living with significant disabilities have viable options to seek and gain meaningful integrated employment opportunities and receive real wages for real jobs. To that effect, the Office of Disability Employment Policy believes that publicly funded supports should, first and foremost, help people live healthy, productive lives by getting them employed in community-based jobs that utilize their talents and abilities and compensate them fairly for their contributions.
ODEP stands ready to help states, businesses and providers improve access to integrated employment and other community-based supports as the first option for youth and adults with significant disabilities. I commend my colleagues for protecting the rights of workers with disabilities and enforcing compliance with the law. Even more, I encourage private and public sector employers to consider the multitude of contributions that people with disabilities can bring to the workplace.
Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.