A South Carolina law that allows disabled people to be paid less than minimum wage could be phased out under a bill filed by a Republican senator earlier this month. If passed, the state would employ a task force to establish a three-year plan that would “phase out subminimum wage by August 1, 2024,” a press release said. 

“No one in our state should be paid less than the minimum wage,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, in the release. “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.”

Shealy

Under the 80-year-old federal Fair Labor Standards Act, businesses are allowed to pay adults with disabilities less than the federal $7.25-per-hour minimum wage. As of 2020, approximately 1,200 S.C. adults with disabilities were making less than the federal minimum wage, according to the release. 

The federal law is not applied the same everywhere, with federal Department of Labor initiatives like Employment First that aim to change how people with disabilities are treated in the workplace. South Carolina is not one of them, but this new legislation would go a step further if passed, effectively reversing the Fair Labor Standards Act in the state. 

Advocacy groups like AbleSC are fighting for change in the workplace for adults with intellectual disabilities. Last year, AbleSC director of employment programs Sandy Jordan told the City Paper that people with disabilities often end up in “sheltered workplaces” after turning 21, where they not only make less than minimum wage, but are also not given the chance for upward mobility.

“In 2021, our approach to employment for people with disabilities should not be the same as it was in the 1930s,” AbleSC executive director Kimberly Tissot said in the release, adding that the bill’s passage would create a plan for people to transition out of sheltered workplaces rather than putting them out of a job. “Our society has changed, and people with disabilities have adapted and innovated.”