Legal Loophole Allows Companies to Pay Disabled Workers Just Pennies an Hour

Risky investment

Some of America’s best-known charities pays disabled workers only 22 cents an hour, due to a 75-year-old legal loophole. Section 14 (c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, passed in 1938, permits nonprofit groups to pay thousands of disabled workers far less than minimum wage.

How? Section 14 (c) grants special minimum wage certificates to employers that permit them to pay disabled workers according to their abilities, with no bottom limit to the wage The records from U.S. Department of Labor reveal that some Goodwill workers in Pennsylvania earned as little as 22, 38 and 41 cents an hour in 2009.

The non-profit certificate holders set up “sheltered workshops” for disabled employees and have them perform manual-type tasks, like pricing and hanging up clothes. They can also place employees in for-profit businesses, like restaurants, retail stores, hospitals and government offices. According to a report by NBC news, “while many disabled workers earn full minimum wage more than 216,000 workers earn less than minimum wage because of Section 14 (c) where wages can be just pennies an hour even as some of the groups receive funding from the government. At one workplace in Florida run by a nonprofit, some employees earned one cent per hour in 2011.”

When society got wind that salaries for CEOs totaled more than $30 million (for 150 Goodwills across the U.S) and the CEO of Goodwill Industries of Southern California took home $1.1 million in salary and deferred compensation while 4,000 of the 30,000 disabled Goodwill employees at 69 franchises were paid below minimum wage, people got pretty mad.

Defenders of Section 14 (c) say that Section 14 (c) “provides workers with disabilities the opportunity to be given meaningful work and receive an income.”

Disabled workers receiving below minimum wage don’t necessarily agree. One man who is legally blind and hangs clothes at a Goodwill in Great Falls says, “They certainly can pay me more than they’re paying.”. His wife, blind from birth, quit her job at the same Goodwill store when her already low wage was cut further. “I feel like a second-class citizen. And I hate it.”

Goodwill International CEO Jim Gibbons said that for many people who make below minimum wage, the experience of work is more important than the pay. “It’s typically not about their livelihood. It’s about their fulfillment. It’s about being a part of something. Another CEO of group that labels itself the “voice of disability service providers,” said scrapping the provision could “force [disabled workers] to stay at home,” enter rehabilitation, “or otherwise engage in unproductive and unsatisfactory activities.”

So why does it have to be pennies paid per hour or no work at all? Who has the right to say these people aren’t working for the money? When you think that the profit these companies make come from exploiting disabled workers and are funneled into big CEO salaries, the word GREED doesn’t begin to cover it.

Florida Workers Comp Law Is Unconstitutional, Legislature Cheated Injured Workers

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Miami judge declared Florida workers’ compensation law unconstitutional, because medical care and wage-loss benefits for injured workers have been so diminished over the years that the current statute now violates employees’ “fundamental” rights.

According to Circuit Judge Jorge E. Cueto regarding the case of a Miami-Dade County government office worker, he said the almost 80-year-old law is so flawed that it no longer provides adequate medical care or enough money to replace lost wages. Like some other states, Florida law requires injured workers to seek benefits under the workers’ comp system. Only in rare circumstances, can they sue their employers.

“The benefits in the act have been so decimated that it no longer provides a reasonable alternative to filing suit in civil court,” Cueto reports.

The case presented before Cueto involved an account clerk who tripped over some boxes a co-worker left on the floor. The plaintiff, who was at retirement age, fell on her hip and severely damaged her shoulder. She had to have shoulder replacement surgery and was left in a state of chronic pain and forced to retire. Her attorney said, “The free ride for injuring workers on the job is over. The workers’ comp law has been eviscerated and now we have a judge who essentially admitted that.”

If appealed, Cueto’s order will be the third case to question the constitutionality of Florida’s workers’ compensation statute. Currently, the state Supreme Court is considering another appeal from St. Petersburg. After a firefighter suffered a disabling back injury he was left with no source of income until doctors said there was no chance of medical improvement. His temporary wage-loss benefits expired and he couldn’t work. One lawyer said that the law is fundamental unfair because it relegates a severely injured worker to a legal twilight zone of economic and familial ruin.

The stakes remain high for the blue-collar and agricultural workers in Florida who are hit the hardest when injured.In 1968, Florida lawmakers amended state law so if an employee was injured on the job they could receive workers’ compensation. The agreement was for employers to pay all medical bills and the injured worker would not sue the employer in court. This benefited both parties: the employee would receive quick payment and the employer would not have to shell out additional money for larger settlements.

So what’s gone wrong? In 1990, 1993 and 2003, along with other years, injured workers’ benefits diminished over time. Both in 1993 and 2003, lawmakers slashed benefits after industry complaints that workers’ compensation insurance carriers were charging among the highest premiums in the country. Since the 2003 revisions to the law, premiums have declined by 56 percent.

The tension between these workers and the lawmakers and business leaders in Florida has simmered for years and continue to stay hot as worker rights lawyers appeal to judges to end the law once and for all. But the fight goes on. Lawmakers and business leaders argue high workers’ compensation insurance premiums threatened the state’s economic growth, while employees and worker advocates rebuke their claims. They say Florida has widespread insurance fraud that causes the high premiums.

The New Workforce Innovation for Florida’s Disabled

Fewer than 30% of Florida’s civilians with disabilities, ages 18-64, living in the community were employed in 2012 and fewer than 2000 transition-aged students with disabilities entered the workforce during that year.

But with the passage and signing of theWorkforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014 employment opportunities for Floridians with disabilities is about to improve.

What is the WIOA?

The WIOA is bipartisan, bicameral legislation established to improve our nation’s workforce development system in the effort to get Americans back to work. They believe education and workforce development opportunities are essential to maintaining a strong middle class. Not only is their intent to prepare workers for the 21st century workforce, but also to assist businesses in finding skilled employees in order to compete and create jobs in America.

How Does This Apply to Americans with Disabilities in Florida?

Right now people with disabilities have the highest rate of unemployment of any other group, and more than two-thirds do not participate in the workforce at all. The WIOA hopes to change all of that.

According to the Disability Rights Florida website they report that, “The WIOA will require Florida to place greater priority on young people with disabilities,such as ensuring that young people are provided more opportunities to practice and improve work skills, more chances to consider what interests them in a career, and more ways to get real world work experience. The WIOA will also require that Florida’s VR agencies provide pre-employment transition services to all students with disabilities; better coordinate with transition services provided under the IDEA; and better align disability programs to ensure services, technology, and support is provided for young individuals with disabilities to lead inclusive and successful lives after school.

How do they Plan on Reaching their Goal?

The WIOA wants to make sure that individuals with disabilities get the training, skills, services, and support necessary to be successful in businesses that provide competitive, integrated employment. They plan to improve the integration of basic adult education, occupational skills training, and use of career pathways for persons with disabilities; especially as it applies to young people transitioning from education to employment.

Ann Robinson of Disability Rights Florida says, “If you are a young person with a disability or if you have ever helped raise, teach, or employ a young person with a disability, you know how important the dreams of work and independence are and how unfair the obstacles can be. We hope the WIOA will be a game changer for Florida’s youth,”

For more information, read asummary about the act on the United States House of Representatives website. Also, thus.

People with Disabilities or Special Needs Are Targets for Bullying

Bullying is rampant in our school system because we all thought it was just a part of growing up. Society as a whole allowed bullying to grow and flourish but a number of unfortunate events stirred up public debate on this issue. People now believe that bullying is wrong and that it should be discouraged in our schools. Numerous studies also show that bullied children experience emotional distress, anxiety and depression, which in turn causes their academic performance to drop significantly. Forty-one states have put in place concrete measures e.g. anti-bullying laws to curb bullying in their schools while legislative debate on such laws continues in other states such as Massachusetts.

The Plight of Children with Disabilities

Bullies target kids who seem different when compared to other kids at school. In many cases, bullies pick on kids who appear different and physically weak. Children with disabilities are different as well as physically defenseless in most cases and this is why these children are particularly at risk when it comes to bullying. An online survey on Massachusetts Advocates for Children confirms this assertion. The survey revealed that 90% of all children with autism experienced bulling at one time or another according to the responses given by their parents.

Schools Should Be Safe

Your child is never at fault when bullies target him or her because bullies target vulnerable kids among them. You should let your child know that bullying is not okay and to react violently to cases of bullying is not the way to go. You should speak with your child more often so that you can know if he or she is experiencing any traumatic events at school. You should also make a list of people your child can go to e.g. a certain teacher, guidance counselor or school administrator if he or she feels targeted by other kids at school.

Legal Redress

The law addresses many concerns that parents, teachers and even students have when it comes to school bullying but it needs some modification to conform to the prevailing norms in our school system. This modification should provide a framework for the involvement of all stakeholders when it comes to preventing, detecting and dealing with school bullying. However, there are cases of school bullying where certain stakeholders e.g. the school administration failed to stop the bullying. In this case, you can seek legal redress in our courts for damages incurred based on personal injury law. Remember, school bullying can only stop if you take action so do not hesitate when it comes to seeking legal redress.  In the case of a child being bullied, there are many parties that can be held accountable – school officials who failed to stop the activity and even the students involved.  Florida has a strict anti-bullying law, so if you know someone who has suffered at the hands of a bully or bullies contact a Personal Injury attorney in Florida.  This type of activity has to stop and hold people accountable is the way to make it happen.

Bullying and Harassment of the Disabled – Disability Rights

Cases of school bullying in American schools are an all-time high, as cyber bullying becomes one of the most destructive forms of bullying in our schools. This new form of bullying allows bullies to target vulnerable kids anywhere and at any time. Monitoring cyber bullying is difficult for both parents and teachers and this is why bullies prefer using it to other forms of bullying. Jeffrey Johnston was one such victim of cyber bullying, bullies would call him fat on social media and in person. He committed suicide in 2005 because he could not take the insults anymore. Johnston was only fifteen years old at the time.

Targeted Kids

Jeffrey Johnston is a constant reminder that bullies target kids with certain physical traits e.g. being obese. Children with disabilities also face the same kind of stigma from their fellow students. Students taunt them, ridicule them and at times, physically abuse them. Florida has taken steps to protect the rights of disabled children as bullies can easily target them. The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, in memory of Jeffrey Johnston, is the most significant step taken by the State of Florida to protect these rights. The Act requires the adoption of a bully prohibition policy by each public K-12 educational institution.

Definitions within the Act

This Act limits itself to protecting children against harassment and bullying by their fellow students and this is why defining bullying and harassment is so important. These definitions help us understand who is on the wrong side of the law and what the law can do for the aggrieved party. The Act defines bullying as the systematic infliction of harm on a student either physically or psychology through teasing, social exclusion, threat, intimidation, stalking, physical violence, theft, public humiliation or destruction of property. It then defines harassment as insulting or threatening a person using words, gestures computer software or physical conduct.

Provisions of the Act

The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act has far-reaching consequences for schools if bullying persists among their students. For example, schools can lose their funding if they do not adopt an effective prohibition policy on school bullying. This policy should prohibit bullying during educational programs conducted by public K-12 academic institutions as well as during educational programs sponsored by the same institutions. It also prohibits harassment of students or employees using computer software or data.

If a school in the state of Florida is not holding up their end of the deal, you are eligible for legal action to be taken against the school.  More and more personal injury attorneys are seeing bullying cases in their offices.  In order to make sure that the Act is followed and bullying is stopped, schools and officials need to be held accountable.  You should seek legal action if the school your child attends fails to implement these simple provisions of the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act.

 

Ticket To Work Program In Florida: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you currently live in Florida, receive Social Security disability benefits and are considering returning to work? Some recipients of disability payments may be able to begin working again, or at least attempt to reenter the job market. Yet, if you are considering this type of move, you’re likely concerned about the impact that it could have upon your benefits. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration knows that navigating this transition can be difficult and fraught with worries, so they’ve implemented a special program to help.

Termed the “ticket to work” program, it is designed to help you successfully return to work, or at least make an attempt. Rather than being penalized for trying to become employed once again, the Social Security Administration has provided specific incentives to entice you to try.

What are these?

Included are your medical coverage, and during the transition time when you are trying to get a job, or are receiving vocational rehabilitation, you’ll still receive your Medicare or Medicaid benefits. You may even qualify to keep receiving your health coverage even after you’ve resumed working. This is true for your cash payments as well, if you are eligible. In addition, they may help to pay any work-related expenses that you incur due to your disability.

The other benefits of the ticket to work program in Florida include assistance procuring employment, which could include vocational rehabilitation or other forms of help. You’ll be connected with an employment network (EN), which can provide a variety of services to make finding and keeping a job easier.

Continuing Disability Review

Also, you’ll receive protections from Continuing Disability Review (or CDR), which are periodically conducted to ensure that you still meet the requirements necessary to receive your disability benefits. The Social Security Administration will not conduct a CDR based upon the fact that you’ve returned to work, as long as you make consistent progress on your employment plan (your EN should help you with this).

If you find that you cannot successfully return to work, you will not be penalized in any way. It is easy to restart your cash payments each month (if they ever stopped).

Who is eligible for the ticket to work program?

If you receive disability benefits and are between the ages of 18-64, you qualify for the program. You may receive a ticket in the mail without asking, or you can request one from the Social Security Administration as well. For those who receive an unsolicited ticket, you are under no obligation to use it, as this program is strictly voluntary.

All told, the ticket to work program in Florida is designed to help disabled people return to work, without endangering their benefits by trying. As it can be difficult to determine in advance whether you will be able to work again on a consistent basis, the program has safeguards in place so you won’t lose your benefits during this time. This can make it possible for those who are unsure about working make the transition successfully, while still retaining the option to fall back on their benefits if necessary.

Fair Housing Laws Explained

Understanding your legal rights and responsibilities is the first in ensuring that your rights are respected. Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act contains the Fair Housing Act which bans any form of discrimination based on color, race, religion, sex, nationality or disability. In addition, the act also offers protection for families with children.

New Construction

According to the Fair Housing Act, new construction requirements only apply to buildings with four or more units that offered housing after 1991. Some of the requirements include:

-Persons with disabilities must have access to public and common areas.

-Hallways and doorways must be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs.

In addition, each unit must have:

-A route that is accessible into and through the unit.

-Equipment such as electrical outlets, switches, environmental controls and thermostats must all be accessible.

-Bathroom walls have to be reinforced to allow installation of grab bars.

-Kitchens and bathrooms must be able to accommodate wheelchairs.

In addition, the requirements of the act are applicable to each floor unit if there is an elevator. If not, they apply only to the ground floor units.

Reasonable Accommodations

Reasonable accommodation refers to a change, adaptation, exception or modification that allows a person with disability to use a residence. The term also applies to common spaces and public building areas.

According to the Fair Housing Act, building owners and landlords must make reasonable accommodations that ensure persons with disabilities have equal opportunities to use and enjoy their space of dwelling.

Examples of reasonable accommodations include:

-Allowing a disabled tenant to mail the rent instead of taking it to the office.

-Providing a parking space that is near to the entry and exit point of the building.

-Revising the no pet’s policy by allowing a disabled person to keep quality of life animals.

-A health aide, nurse or therapist should not be considered as an additional guest or tenant.

-Allowing the disabled individual to move to a suitable unit if available.

-Allowing for the release of a disabled tenant from their lease requirements because of their condition.

Reasonable Modifications

This refers to a physical change made to a disabled tenants’ living space. In accordance with the Fair Housing Act, owners and landlords must make reasonable modifications for disabled tenants.

Examples of reasonable modifications include:

-Installation of ramps to allow wheelchair access.

-Installation of lever door openers as opposed to knob openers.

-Having wider door openings by installing wider pocket doors and swing-away hinges.

-Installing shower stalls that are wheelchair accessible.

-Installation of grab bars and hand rails.

-Removal of under the sink cupboards in bathrooms.

-Lowering of light switches.

Disabled individuals can access funds to help them with modifications. You can check out the Center for Independent Living in your area or visit your county government offices to request financial assistance for your modifications.

Disability Employment Resources in Florida

According to the Disabilities Act of 1990 individuals in the United States with disabilities can enjoy the same employment opportunities as people without disabilities. In America’s workforce, free of discrimination, a qualified individual with a disability has a right to work.

In Florida there are many resources where the disable can get assistance with finding a job.  Below you will find a list of online resources:

  • For information about different job openings or employment related resources, disabled people can contact the Employ Florida site which is a network of workforce services.
  •  Ask EARN (Employer Assistance & Recruiting Network) site  have a database of jobs open to those with disabilities.
  • Non-profit public/private partnership ‘The Able Trust’ will help Floridians with disabilities in finding employment.

Those with disabilities have rights and resources available to them to aid in gaining employment.  Know your rights and use these services available to you:

  • Access to publicly funded benefits and services.
  • Accessibility to the blind
  • Vocational rehabilitation services.
  • Civic participation and voting rights.
  • In the most exclusive environment access to appropriate and free public education.
  • Access to transportation, business, post-secondary education,  technology and other public and private programs.
  • Access to home and community based services.

Some of the goals and objectives in the year 2014 for the disabled people in Florida are as listed below:

  • There should not be any kind of abuse or neglect to such individuals, and to people who suffer from any kind of disability.
  • Any kind of financial abuse to disabled people and to promote economic self-sufficiency.
  • Each and every individual should get full and equal enjoyment of rights.
  • Disabled people should get access to any kind of programs, recreation and transportation.
  • The students with disabilities should be eligible for all kinds of educational opportunities.
  • They should have the opportunity for fully integrated employment.
  • One of the most important goals is to increase public awareness about Disability Rights.