Liberati Bill Prohibits Subminimum Wage for Workers with Disabilities

Thursday, February 15, 2018

LANSING — State Rep. Frank Liberati (D-Allen Park)  introduced House Bill 5587 today prohibiting employers from paying an employee with a disability less than the minimum wage. Current state law allow employers to pay a subminimum wage to employees with disabilities. Liberati’s bill would still allow a temporary training wage for learners and apprentices, but not a lesser wage simply because a worker has a physical or mental disability.

“As a small business owner who has hired multiple individuals with disabilities, I have always believed in giving all employees the opportunity to succeed,” said Liberati. “The subminimum wage discriminates against individuals who work just as hard as other employees and continues to impede their ability to lead independent and dignified lives. It’s time to pay a fair wage for a day’s work to all working people, including those with a disability.”

Two other states, New Hampshire and Maryland, have already passed legislation that mandates the elimination of the subminimum wages for employees with disabilities, with some exemptions for certain employers and training programs, practical experience, and family businesses. Congress adopted the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 to fight discrimination and segregation, and to prohibit forcing citizens with disabilities into lesser jobs with fewer opportunities. Yet wage laws still discriminate. A 2016 Administrator’s Interpretation from the U.S. Wage and Hour Division found that state laws that prohibit the payment of subminimum wages to workers with disabilities do not conflict with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which means Michigan can be the next state to ban wage discrimination against workers with disabilities.

“Repealing the subminimum wage is a good start,” said Elmer Cerano, Executive Director of Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, Inc. (MPAS).  “By repealing the subminimum wage, we let people know the life they want is obtainable and their passion should not be limited by their disability. The goal is to offer integrated employment where there is no segregation and everyone is paid fairly. A disability does not define worth and it should not limit the life they are entitled to have.”

According to one of the guiding principles of a recent task force report prepared by the National Conference of State Legislators and the Council of State Governments entitled “Work Matters, A Framework for States on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities,” “a disability is a natural part of the human experience that in no way diminishes one’s right to fully participate in all aspects of community life.”

“When workers with disabilities are able to have community-based employment and receive standard wages, we treat them with the dignity that they deserve and allow them to fully participate in the economy and in life as independently as possible,” said state Rep. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor). “I am proud to have worked with Rep. Liberati on HB 5587 and to be a cosponsor of the bill.”

“Not only does banning the subminimum wage provide workers with a fair wage and the respect they deserve, it also has a positive impact on other employees,” said Liberati. “I have seen firsthand how integration and breaking down the barriers within a workplace can create a positive work environment for everyone.”