Virginia Joins Maryland in Raising Subminimum Wages for Disabled People

Maryland raised the state’s sub minimum wage for disabled people in 2016, effective in 2020.

During its 2023 legislative session, Virginia considered and passed a bill to phase out the practice of paying subminimum wages to disabled people, who are currently listed within the “tipped employees” section of Virginia state code.

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, employers can receive a certificate exemption that allows them to determine pay for disabled workers based on a productivity calculation compared to other employees, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Typically, the places that pay sub minimum wages are sheltered workshops that employ people with severe intellectual disabilities who may not be able to perform many of other minimum wage jobs.

Virginia’s HB 1924 requires that the wages of all previously exempt employees be raised to Virginia’s minimum wage when use of the certificate ends in 2030. Currently certified Virginia employers will be grandfathered in until 2030, but no new certificates will be issued after July 1, 2023. HB 1924 was signed into law by Governor Glenn Youngkin on April 12.

Ending subminimum wage

Rout Fifty recently reported on the growing movement to end the subminimum wage around the country:

The effort to do away with subminimum wages for people with disabilities enjoys rare bipartisan support—even In Congress, where a bill to end the lower wages was sponsored by a Democrat and a Republican in each of the chambers.

According to Route Fifty:

… the idea is to phase out these federally certified and funded workshops that segregate disabled workers and find ways to integrate them into mainstream workplaces. It mirrors a decades-long effort in public schools to mainstream children with disabilities with their peers.

Nationwide, the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) reports that there has been a steady decline in the number of active certificates and the number of individuals employed by these workshops has declined. An APSE report on the trends and current status of 14(c)—the certificates to run sheltered workshop reports that:

In 2016, there were 2,275 active certificates employing 241,265 individuals earning subminimum. In July 2019, these numbers dropped to 1,316 certificates employing 105,006 individuals. This is a 56% decrease in certificates and 42% decrease in individuals served.

Maryland passed similar legislation in 2016

So far, 13 state legislatures have voted to abolish the low wage for disabled people, with Maryland passing legislation to do so in 2016. The passage of the Ken Capone Equal Employment Act outlawed 14(c) certificates in Maryland and enforced a basic civil right for people with disabilities over a phased-in period up to October of 2020, which marked the full end of the for these adult service providers.

Visit the Maryland Department of Labor’s website to learn more about all of Maryland’s existing minimum wage laws and exemptions.