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California bill proposes elimination of subminimum wage for workers with disabilities

| Jun 22, 2021 | Wage & Hour Law

Under current law, employers in California can apply for a certificate through a federal program that allows them to pay workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage. The program — known as 14(c) — dates back to 1938 and was originally meant to encourage employers to hire veterans with disabilities.

Now a bill has been proposed in California to eliminate this option for employers. If passed into law, the bill would require employers to pay at least the state’s full minimum wage to workers with disabilities, and the federal subminimum wage program would be phased out in California by 2025.

Arguments for and against the change

Proponents of the bill say that the federal program has been exploited by employers and results in segregated workplaces. For example, some Californians with disabilities are getting paid as little as 15 cents an hour under the 14(c) program.

Those who oppose the bill say that the federal program allows employers to hire people with disabilities and provide a paycheck and an opportunity to work that they otherwise would not receive.

The new bill (SB 639) has some momentum

Six other states have already eliminated employers’ ability to pay subminimum wages to workers with disabilities, and federal legislation is currently being considered to do the same, as well as raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The California bill — SB 639 — was already passed in the state Senate with a 31-2 vote, and now the bill will go to the Assembly. If passed there, the bill could be signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

What to do if your wage and hour rights are violated

If you have questions about whether you are being paid your rightful wages — whether that means California’s minimum wage or overtime wages — our overview of California wage and hour law may provide some answers.