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The Seattle Office of Labor Standards Recovers More Than $40,000 in Subminimum Wage Violations on Behalf of Workers with Disabilities

After a thorough investigation by the Office of Labor Standards (OLS), Northwest Center has agreed to pay a total of $40,791 in back wages, unpaid interest and other monetary remedies to ten employees with disabilities who were paid subminimum wages. Northwest Center has already reimbursed the employees over $37,000 and will pay the remaining amount in the near future. Northwest Center cooperated fully with the OLS investigation.

Up until last year, employers had been allowed to apply for special certificates from the City of Seattle to pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage. These City certificates were issued if the applicant had received a special certificate from the State of Washington. OLS issued a rule in September, 2017 that prohibited these special certificates, and no such certificates have been granted since that time. In 2018, a bill authored by City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, and signed into law earlier this month by Mayor Jenny Durkan, codified that ban into an ordinance.

In this case, Northwest Center never applied for or received a special certificate from the City.

“While we led the way for minimum wage, we left too many people out and did not recognize their full contributions. Eliminating the subminimum wage was long overdue,” said Mayor Durkan. “The City of Seattle will continue to fight pay discrimination in all its forms. The enforcement of our City’s laws is the best way to ensure equality and inclusion for all who live and work in Seattle.”

“Eliminating the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities strengthens our City’s belief that all work has dignity and that all workers should be able to earn at least the minimum wage,” said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda. “The violations announced today are exactly why I worked to codify the Directors’ Rule eliminating the subminimum wage, why we need laws not just policy ideas and why, when we pass laws, we need to enforce them. I look forward to continuing to work with the Office of Labor Standards to strengthen our outreach and enforcement of labor standards.”

The elimination of the subminimum wage is a continuation of an approach spearheaded by Councilmember Lisa Herbold. The Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities voted unanimously in June 2017 to end an exemption allowing employers in Seattle to pay a subminimum wage for their disabled workers.

“Businesses shouldn’t feel like they don’t have to follow labor laws just because their employees are developmentally disabled. Now all workers are protected by minimum wage and other labor standards regardless of disability,” said Shaun Bickley, Co-Chair, Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities.

“Northwest Center is dedicated to workplace inclusion for people of ALL Abilities,” said Emily Miller, Chief People Officer Northwest Center. “We appreciate the proactive approach from the City of Seattle and look forward to strengthening our partnership as we continue to seek employment opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities.”

Seattle is the first city to eliminate subminimum wages and currently is the largest single employer in the country for people with disabilities.

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