Goodwill: Disabled Employees Earn Less Than $1 Per Hour

Jennifer Deutschmann

UPDATE 6/25/2013

At Goodwill, some disabled employees earn less than $1 per hour. Due to a federal law, the practice is completely legal. As a non-profit organization, Goodwill Industries is permitted to pay their employees below minimum wage.

Labor Department records in Pennsylvania reveal that Goodwill paid some disabled employees as little as 22 cents per hour in 2011. Incredibly low wages are not exclusive to Goodwill locations in Pennsylvania.

As reported by NBC News, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 includes a provision that circumvents the legal minimum wage. The act allows nonprofit organizations to pay the disabled based on time studies, which determine employee productivity.

At Goodwill, some disabled employees are earning less than $1 per hour. Around seven percent of Goodwill Employees are paid less than minimum wage. However, the wages may fluctuate as determined by time studies.

Harold Leigland of Great Falls, Montana, currently earns $5.46 per hour. His wages are based on time studies, where he is timed while performing his usual work tasks. The 66-year-old man is required to perform the test every six months. His earnings are adjusted accordingly.

The time studies are required and regulated by federal law as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act. While the laws are in place to protect the interest of disabled workers, for some the practice is not ideal.

Harold's wife Sheila never made more than $3.50 per hour. Sheila explained that she performed poorly during the testing, as it was incredibly stressful. Things were even worse when she returned to work after a surgery. Her wages were lowered to $2.75 per hour.

As reported by the Huffington Post, Goodwill International CEO Jim Gibbons defends the practice. Gibbons contends that Goodwill has been unfairly criticized as many employers rely on the Fair Labor Standards Act. Gibbons explains his position:

"... people with the most significant disabilities, the Special Minimum Wage Certificate means the difference between reaching their personal employment potential and having no job at all."

For Goodwill's disabled employees, that fact may be the only reason they are willing to work for such low wages. Many of them, including Harold Leigland, simply have no other choice.

Note: Following the initial publication of this article we received correspondence from Goodwill Industries explaining their employment practices according to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Please refer to for their response to media coverage.

[Image via Flickr]