COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD)- A joint resolution in the South Carolina legislature wants to ensure thousands of workers with disabilities in South Carolina earn a fair wage.
Bill S.533, introduced by Sen. Katrina Shealy (R-Lexington), would prohibit employers from using a loophole in federal law that allows individuals with disabilities to be paid less than minimum wages. The legislation passed the Senate unanimously earlier in April.
In accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, employers can pay people with disabilities less than $7.25 per hour if they can’t perform a job as well as a person who is not disabled. A representative with the disability nonprofit group Able South Carolina said that wages can sometimes be as low as pennies per hour.
“No one in our state should be paid less than the minimum wage,” Sen. Shealy said. “Our state needs to get on board with this. It should be equal; if you work in South Carolina, you should be paid at least minimum wage.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, right now roughly 1,200 people in South Carolina are paid a subminimum wage. South Carolina also has one of the highest unemployment rates for people with disabilities.
Under the proposed law, “individuals whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by age, physical or mental deficiency, or injury” could not be paid less than the federal minimum wage.
The bill calls for a task force to create a transition plan to phase out subminimum wage by August 1, 2024. The task force would include members of nonprofit groups and directors of state departments such as Health and Human Services and Employment and Workforce, among others.
“In 2022, our approach to employment for people with disabilities should not be the same as it was in the 1930s,”, Executive Director of Able SC Kimberley Tissot said. “Our society has changed, and people with disabilities have adapted and innovated. Thirteen other states have recognized this fact, Tennessee being the most recent. We can work just as well as anyone else, and we deserve to be paid equally for it.”
The House, Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee is set to vote on the bill this week before sending it to the House floor. If the bill passes, South Carolina would join 13 other states in enacting laws to end subminimum wage.