The U.S. Department of Labor has revoked the certificate of Sterling’s Rock River Valley Self Help Enterprises, Inc. after finding nearly 250 workers with disabilities were being exploited.

Section 14(c) of the FLSA is designed to offer more job opportunities for workers with disabilities when their disability affects their productive capacity for the work being performed. After applying for and receiving a certificate from the department’s Wage and Hour Division, the employer may gauge their hourly workers’ productivity and calculate the appropriate sub-minimum wage as a percentage of the rate for experienced workers performing similar jobs in the area under the Section 14(c) provisions.

The investigation revealed a failure to timely perform appropriate wage surveys and failure to conduct proper time studies on all jobs performed by workers with disabilities. The investigation also revealed that the employer attempted to mislead and obstruct the investigation by concealing relevant information during the investigation, hiding work that the employer had not time studied but had the workers perform. On some weekends, Rock River Valley Self Help unlawfully paid workers with gift cards instead of wages.

The nature of these violations, coupled with Rock River Valley Self Help’s repeated failure to demonstrate current compliance with the law led the U.S. Department of Labor to revoke the employer’s Section 14(c) certificate, effective immediately and retroactively. The department also denied Rock River Valley Self Help’s pending applications to renew their certificate. Without the certificate, Rock River Valley Self Help must pay all current workers at least the full federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.  In addition, the business must pay back wages to all workers who performed work at the subminimum wage over the last two years.

“The Department of Labor is committed to protecting Americans with disabilities from exploitation in the workplace,” said Ruben Rosalez, Acting Regional Administrator. “When employers violate federal law and obstruct investigators, we take decisive action to protect vulnerable workers, their families, and other employers who play by the rules.”

The Department of Labor is taking proactive steps to assist Rock River Valley Self Help workers who may be impacted by the revocation and require additional assistance.

Employees and employers with questions about the FLSA or any of the federal wage laws administered by WHD should call the Agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE.