Sheltered Workshops

Written by Kimberly Clark
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The Department of Labor (DOL) defines the term sheltered workshops as "centers that have historically provided rehabilitation services, day treatment, training, and/or employment opportunities to individuals with disabilities." They were created to provide permanently or temporarily disabled people with a transitional or "sheltered" workplace before being integrated into the mainstream workforce. Today the workshops prefer to be called work centers.

Helping or Hurting the Disabled

With the exception of supervisors, these facilities traditionally hire only people with disabilities. This has prompted some to question whether or not a physically or mentally impaired person can be properly prepared for work in a competitive workplace while working in a segregated facility. Furthermore, with all the regulations that have been passed to ensure that equality is enforced in places of employment, the real issue becomes a matter of if these entities actually help or if they in fact hinder the disabled.

Another highly debated topic is the DOL's allowance to sheltered workshops that grants them the right to pay disabled workers a special minimum wage based on the worker's productivity level as compared to a person without a disability; this typically requires specialized software to ensure correct payment and legal compliancy. This special minimum wage is almost always less than the national minimum wage specified in section 6(a) (1) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Many feel this keeps employees of sheltered workshops from realizing their true earning potential.

In the past, the ability to pay their workers less gave sheltered workshops what some considered an unfair competitive edge. This sentiment was especially felt when it came to bidding for contracts. Unfortunately, many of the tasks once performed by the employees of sheltered workshops are now being automated or outsourced to businesses located in low cost countries.

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