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Science & Medicine

Indiana organization to end subminimum wage for workers with disabilities

Justin Hicks
The U.S. Department of Labor authorizes employers who seek to pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage for certain tasks. (Justin Hicks/IPB News)

One Indiana organization decided this year to stop paying workers with physical and developmental disabilities less than minimum wage. A certification from the U.S. Department of Labor makes it legal to do so, but Huntington-based Pathfinder Services opted out.

The DOL issues 14(c) certificates to employers who assist workers with disabilities. To be approved, they have to prove it would take a worker with disabilities longer to complete the same task as a worker without disabilities, and often operate on a piece-rate pay system.

Pathfinder has a manufacturing facility where people with disabilities do jobs outsourced from companies like packaging products or assembling kits.

Danielle Tips is president and CEO of Pathfinder and said they decided in the fall to end their ability to pay subminimum wages. She said it was part of a long-term plan to become a stepping stone towards the regular workforce, but an influx of business during the pandemic accelerated it. 

“Our philosophical approach is that there is a need for it, yes, but that should not be the ending place,” Tips said.

She said other organizations that are continuing to operate with subminimum wage certificates should update their expectations of these worker's abilities, especially now that technology can assist them with jobs more and more. 

Tips urges employers having a hard time hiring to consider workers with disabilities, noting that once they're given an opportunity, they're frequently loyal to those companies for a very long time. 

“The disability workforce is the most overlooked workforce and now is the time, more than ever, to really look at that workforce and see the contribution that they could be making to our communities,” she said.

According to DOL data, eight organizations in Indiana are currently authorized to pay more than 450 workers with disabilities less than minimum wage. 

Contact reporter Justin at jhicks@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @Hicks_JustinM.