Providence vocational school to pay more than $250K in backwages

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Back Pay

The Department of Labor has reached a settlement with a Providence, Rhode Island-based vocational school for violations of a program that allows it to pay some workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage.

Under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, enacted in 1938, employers can receive Special Wage Certificates from the DOL, allowing them to pay certain employees subminimum wages. Although the long-criticzed program was designed as a way to expand employment opportunities, it is strongly opposed by many disability rights groups.

As part of the settlement, the Harold A. Birch Vocational Center and School will pay $250,859 in backwages to 60 student workers at the school.

Although their wages were supposed to be based on their productivity, the school paid them a flat wage of between $1 and $2.01 per day, according to the DOL’s investigation. The school also falsified their time-sheet records and often failed to provide paychecks for long periods.

“This settlement is the result of a strategic enforcement initiative to protect workers with disabilities from exploitation,” said David R. Gerrain, acting district director of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division’s Hartford office, in a news release. “Workers with disabilities deserve an opportunity to do meaningful work and to receive an income.

“Although employers may legally pay such workers below the current federal minimum wage, the law clearly states that they may only do so when they assure compliance with certain, key conditions.”

The program comes in light of a first-of-its-kind settlement announced  in June 2013 between the Department of Justice and the Providence-based Training Through Placement, which is designed to ensure that the programs, despite receiving the wage certificate, take steps to help their employees integrate into supported employment.