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News Release

U.S. Department of Labor Acts to Protect Individuals with Disabilities From Workplace Exploitation

Investigation Finds Nearly 250 Workers with Disabilities Improperly Paid By Rock River Valley Self Help Enterprises in Sterling, Illinois

CHICAGO, IL – Consistent with its mission to protect the American workforce, the U.S. Department of Labor has revoked Rock River Valley Self Help Enterprises, Inc.’s certificate under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) 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 (WHD), 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 WHD 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 WHD’s investigation by concealing relevant information from WHD during the investigation, hiding work that the employer had not time studied but had the workers perform. On some weekends, Self Help unlawfully paid workers with gift cards instead of wages.

The nature of these violations, coupled with Self Help’s repeated failure to demonstrate current compliance with the law—despite being provided guidance and numerous opportunities to do so—led WHD to revoke the employer’s Section 14(c) certificate, effective immediately and retroactively. WHD also denied Self Help’s pending applications to renew their certificate. Absent this certificate, Self Help must pay all current workers at least the full federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.  In addition, Self Help must pay back wages to all workers who performed work at the subminimum wage over the last two years.  These determinations may be appealed to the WHD Administrator.

“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 is taking proactive steps to assist Self Help workers who may be impacted by the revocation and require additional assistance. In coordination with federal and state partners, the Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy and the Employment and Training Administration are working with local, state, and federal agencies to identify resources and support for the affected workers in Self Help’s geographic region, should they be needed.  Additionally, law enforcement agencies have been notified of this action.

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 (487-9243).  All calls are confidential. More information is available online at

Wage and Hour Division
April 23, 2018
Release Number
Media Contact: Eric Holland
Phone Number
Media Contact: Edwin Nieves
Phone Number