Plight of exploited disabled workers brought to light with Ontario woman’s damage awa


SLM
+1
#1  Top Rated Post
Plight of exploited disabled workers brought to light with Ontario woman’s damage award

A law allowing employers to pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage looks like an example of good intentions gone awry.
On the one hand, it's intended to encourage companies to hire the disabled, giving them gainful employment which enhances their self-worth. On the other, it opens the door to firms that may see a potential for profitable exploitation of a group that has few options.
Companies like Janus Joan Inc.
The St. Catharines, Ont., packaging outfit and its owner, Stacey Szuch, have been hit with a whopping $187,000 penalty by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal for discriminating against 45-year-old Terri-Lynn Garrie.
The woman, who is described as intellectually challenged, was paid $1.25 an hour – well below minimum wage – for years, then fired.
According to the Toronto Star, the damage award includes about $142,000 in lost wages, almost $20,000 in additional lost income for discriminatory termination and $25,000 for "injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect."
"I find that the organization respondent’s discriminatory treatment of the applicant was serious," tribunal adjudicator Ken Bhattacharjee said in his decision.
"The respondent terminated her employment because of her disability after she had worked for them for approximately 10 years. I accept her testimony that she became upset, sad, mad, and depressed.
"I also accept the applicant’s mother’s testimony that the applicant was devastated because her job was her livelihood and social life, that she no longer had anything to occupy her during the day, and that she became reclusive. I also find that, as a person with a developmental disability, the applicant was vulnerable."

Garrie was among several people with developmental disabilities who had been working at Janus Joan since the late 1990s, packing wine bottles. They worked alongside other employees who were paid at least the minimum wage.
She was fired in October 2009 after 10 years with the company, ostensibly because she said she was unhappy with her work. A month later, Janus Joan let the rest of the disabled workers go.
Garrie's initial complaint to the tribunal, filed by on her behalf by her mother, was rejected because it exceeded the one-year time window from the start of her employment in 1999, when she was paid $1 an hour. But it was later reassessed after the tribunal concluded it amounted to an ongoing wage discrimination up to her dismissal.
Neither the company nor Szuch participated in the hearing, though she sent a letter stating Garrie was not an employee but a "trainee," who was paid an honorarium so her provincial disability payment would not be clawed back.
Szuch also claimed her mother and sister were aware of the arrangement. Her mother said they did not complain because Garrie loved her job.
In its editorial on the decision, the Law Times said administrators of Ontario's disability support program should have been aware Garrie of the situation because she reported her income to bureaucrats.
Bhattacharjee, in his ruling, dismissed Szuch's excuses as irrelevant, saying the company was still responsible for upholding non-discrimination provisions of the Human Rights Code.
The Star said the ruling is believed to be the first time any tribunal has looked at the issue of discriminatory pay for people with intellectual disabilities.
The tribunal decision also asks the Ontario Human Rights Commission to investigate if the practice of paying less than minimum wage is widespread and, if so, to advise the province on how to stop it, the Star said.
Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall welcomed the ruling.
“The fact that we intervened in the first place shows we are really concerned about this issue and the seriousness with which the tribunal took it is very important,” she told the Star.
A 1986 change to Ontario's Employment Standards Act allows employers to pay people with disabilities the minimum wage.

Similar federal legislation in the United States has come under scrutiny over allegations Goodwill Industries has used it to exploit its disabled workforce, Forbes Magazine reported last year.
Garrie's experience is probably more common that most people think, Chris Beesley of Community Living Ontario, which advocates for adults with intellectual disabilities, told the Star.
“And shining a light on why it is wrong is probably more valuable that just this one outcome,” he said.
The unemployment rate for the intellectually disabled is about 75 per cent, Beesley said, despite data showing that for certain jobs they're statistically better workers than everyone else. They are more motivated, miss fewer days, have fewer accidents and provide better customer service, he told the Star.
“People with intellectual disabilities are underemployed because they are undervalued,” he said. “And when they are employed they are underpaid.”
Garrie told the Star she was thrilled with the tribunal's ruling.
“I’m very happy (the case) is over and done with,” she said. “I don’t want to see this happen again to anyone else."
Whether Garrie gets to collect her damage award is another matter.
Bhattacharjee noted in his ruling Janus Joan closed its doors not long after the complaint was filed and Szuch had declared personal bankruptcy. Shortly after, however, a new company with a slightly different name and the same co-ordinates had started up. Garrie's mother claims it's a dodge to avoid legal liability.


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Cliffy
#2
Ain't capitalism great!
 
Tecumsehsbones
#3
Quote: Originally Posted by CliffyView Post

Ain't capitalism great!

Good thing the government protects us from the excesses of capitalism.
 
petros
+1
#4
Quote: Originally Posted by TecumsehsbonesView Post

Good thing the government protects us from the excesses of capitalism.

Doesn't Goodwill give the excesses of Capitalism to those who reject it?
 
Tecumsehsbones
#5
Quote: Originally Posted by petrosView Post

Doesn't Goodwill give the excesses of Capitalism to those who reject it?

Goodwill doesn't give anything to anybody. Goodwill sells second-(third-, fourth-, fifth-)hand stuff.
 
petros
+1
#6
Scam.
 
Tecumsehsbones
#7
Quote: Originally Posted by petrosView Post

Scam.

Not at all. You get to view and touch the items, and the price is clearly marked. It's perfectly honest retail. And like all great retail companies, it pays crap wages and provides lousy working conditions.

Capitalism at its finest.

And where would hipsters find their oh-so-cool looks without Goodwill?
 
lone wolf
#8
Value Village....
 
Tecumsehsbones
#9
Quote: Originally Posted by lone wolfView Post

Value Village....

Nah, Value Village is for wannabes. True hipsters shop at Goodwill, for the delicious irony of supporting the oppression of disabled folks.
 
lone wolf
#10
I see no mention of ODSP. Though Garrie should be paid a fair wage, she would lose benefits (such as they are) if she was earning one.
 
BornRuff
-1
#11
Quote: Originally Posted by lone wolfView Post

I see no mention of ODSP. Though Garrie should be paid a fair wage, she would lose benefits (such as they are) if she was earning one.

10th paragraph in.

This decision is concerning for sure. I know there are a number of other companies that employ people in a similar arrangement and the companies truly believe that they are doing what is best for these individuals.
 
lone wolf
#12
Quote: Originally Posted by petrosView Post

Scam.

Quote: Originally Posted by BornRuffView Post

10th paragraph in.

This decision is concerning for sure. I know there are a number of other companies that employ people in a similar arrangement and the companies truly believe that they are doing what is best for these individuals.

13th, actually ... but I did find it.

I empathize with Garrie BUT if she wouldn't report earnings, what else would she do?

I be betting she'd best not be spending the award money prematurely. I smell appeal....
 
SLM
#13
Quote: Originally Posted by lone wolfView Post

13th, actually ... but I did find it.

I empathize with Garrie BUT if she wouldn't report earnings, what else would she do?

I be betting she'd best not be spending the award money prematurely. I smell appeal....

I don't think she's likely to ever see it to be honest.

You know I think the concept is great, but they'd be better off using a subsidy for workers like this as opposed to simply allowing employers to pay less than the minimum. For every opportunity out there for the developmentally disabled to actually work and be a part of something, there's bound to be those out there who will take advantage of it.

Kind of sounds to me like this company was stacking up on disabled workers just to get cheap labour.(The article mentions several disabled workers.)Given that they've fired/laid everyone off then started up again under a new banner.
 
lone wolf
#14
Years ago we had a cousin who braided telephone cable for way less than she should have been paid. Even today, baseballs get hand stitched for piece work. There's no machine that can do the job. If there's a profit to be made, someone will capitalize on it.
 
BornRuff
-1
#15
Quote: Originally Posted by SLMView Post

I don't think she's likely to ever see it to be honest.

You know I think the concept is great, but they'd be better off using a subsidy for workers like this as opposed to simply allowing employers to pay less than the minimum. For every opportunity out there for the developmentally disabled to actually work and be a part of something, there's bound to be those out there who will take advantage of it.

Kind of sounds to me like this company was stacking up on disabled workers just to get cheap labour.(The article mentions several disabled workers.)Given that they've fired/laid everyone off then started up again under a new banner.

Many of the companies that hire disabled workers will hire a number of people who have disabilities. Not necessarily out of wanting to amass a huge cheap workforce, but often simply because they went through the effort to set things up to accommodate people who have disabilities, so they would like to help as many people as possible.

Programs such as subsidies would help on the employer's end, but another big piece of this is that people receiving disability benefits don't want to risk having them clawed back. They could probably make changes on the ODSP side to make it more attractive for people to earn money while on ODSP.
 
SLM
#16
Quote: Originally Posted by BornRuffView Post

Many of the companies that hire disabled workers will hire a number of people who have disabilities. Not necessarily out of wanting to amass a huge cheap workforce, but often simply because they went through the effort to set things up to accommodate people who have disabilities, so they would like to help as many people as possible.

Programs such as subsidies would help on the employer's end, but another big piece of this is that people receiving disability benefits don't want to risk having them clawed back. They could probably make changes on the ODSP side to make it more attractive for people to earn money while on ODSP.

I think in the context of the story in the OP, this is a developmental disability. On average, those with developmental disabilities probably don't have the same income requirements, many will live in group settings or with family. So the notion of clawing back is probably not as big of a deal when you compare it with the benefits of having something productive to do. The benefit of increased self-esteem alone is well worth it. That's speaking generally of course. And I'm sure there are many, many employers out there who do not take advantage of the situation.

The flip side of course is that employing someone who might require more hands on supervision and/or more constant direction can be a challenge. This would be the reason why you would allow them to pay under the minimum wage or, as I'd prefer, a subsidy. Because I don't think it's about paying them more, in these kinds of circumstances, but about removing or at least reducing the opportunity for those who would take advantage of the situation. Because a subsidy would come with at least some oversight, it doesn't sound like this system does at all.

I'm specifically thinking of a young woman I worked with when I was in retail years ago, she was fairly high functioning but it was clear she had a developmental disability. She used to come in solely to do all the returns; take merchandise from the return desk or cashes and put it back out on the sales floor. This was not a position at the store, if she was not there then this responsibility fell to all the staff to do. So while I'm not absolutely certain of this, I'm pretty sure there was some kind of incentive for them to hire her. And while she did a good job and was eventually even able to provide some very basic level of customer service, she really wasn't capable of expanding beyond that role. She came in a couple of times a week, maybe for 4 hours at a time, so I'm pretty sure the job was never about financial independence but independence of a different sort.
 
BornRuff
-1
#17
Quote: Originally Posted by SLMView Post

I think in the context of the story in the OP, this is a developmental disability. On average, those with developmental disabilities probably don't have the same income requirements, many will live in group settings or with family. So the notion of clawing back is probably not as big of a deal when you compare it with the benefits of having something productive to do. The benefit of increased self-esteem alone is well worth it. That's speaking generally of course. And I'm sure there are many, many employers out there who do not take advantage of the situation.

The problem that often comes up is that the money people do get from ODSP is actually very important. If someone is living in a group home, there is a cost to that, and it often takes up pretty much someone's entire ODSP check. Because their income is so modest, they really have no financial buffer, so people are understandably nervous about risking a certain monthly income for less certain employment income.

Even if they live at home, it cost money to keep someone at home, so many families do rely on the very modest income to make ends meet.

Being active and involved in the community is obviously a good thing. The government just needs to do more to make it easier for people.
 

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