Q & A Table of Contents
They’re Taking Unfair Advantage Of A Person Who’s Mentally Challenged
From: Lisa, Hiram, Maine
Question: I am looking for some advice for a mentally
challenged friend of mine named Terry. He has been
working for a rubbish removal company in our area for
the past 20 years and always has been an excellent
worker. Terry is a 41 year old man who is such a great
person. He is thoughtful and kind and hates to say
'no' to anyone.
He is a little slow and is easily intimidated by
others. He is often bullied by other workers and by
his boss. I understand this often happens in the
workplace, even mine does that once in a while.
The thing that upsets my husband and me is that after
20 years of working for those people they are still
only paying him $8.50 and hour in wages. He has only
had one raise in 20 years. Also my niece’s boyfriend
works for the same company and he is making over
$12.00 an hour and was just hired a year ago. All the
other workers are making twice as much and Terry has
seniority over all of them.
Terry has a wife and two kids to support. They are
barely getting by and too afraid to pursue the matter.
He is afraid he will get fired. So I am asking on my
friend’s behalf on some kind advice on what he can do.
Are these people breaking the law treating my friend
this way? Isn't there a law against taking advantage
of a mentally challenged hard working family man?
Response: You are a kind and thoughtful friend. I
have no idea what laws may be involved regarding
protections for mentally challenged folks in your
state. The state must surely have an interest in
seeing that needy people are properly paid so they
don’t need taxpayers’ money to get medical, housing,
or other services.
If you or another friend of Terry’s contacts relevant
State agencies (Division of Employment Security,
Mental Health, agencies for the disabled) as well as
private organizations that help folks with Terry’s
issues, you are likely to find out what rules govern
payment, working conditions — and perhaps even find an
official or non-profit advocate for Terry.
It may well be that a religious organization could be
interested in being helpful. In addition, you might
find allies among elected officials who are in the
government that hires the company for which Terry
works. If his company only collects trash from
private clients, you may find help among those
companies. For example some companies have a
particularly good record hiring and supporting folks
with a variety of disabilities and they may be
prepared to join you in going to bat for Terry.
Given your description of the situation, this does not
sound like a set of circumstances where somehow Terry
could be transformed into a self-confident negotiator
in his own behalf. However you should ask him and his
wife what steps he has taken over the years to try to
get fairer treatment — and what the results or
reasoning behind those results has been.
Terry needs to have an advocate who has done the
appropriate homework to work with him to improve his
situation. His self-image will be helped considerably
if he plays a part in a successful negotiation. Your
niece’s boyfriend may also be a good source of
information and ideas. If he doesn’t care, your niece
ought to be made aware of this character flaw in her
Once the homework has been done and things have been
explained to Terry — in what might be thought of as a
pep talk — he and his advocate should undertake
discussions with the employer. Ask the employer
questions about Terry’s job performance,
dependability, etc. making sure you know the answers
to these questions ahead of time so you’re not
sandbagged by a negative answer. Ask the employer to
describe its policy regarding payment to employees —
looking to the relevance of seniority, dependability,
etc. Ask the employer open-ended questions, giving
him/her a chance to provide you information you can
use to justify better pay for Terry.
In an ideal world, folks can negotiate for themselves.
In the case you describe, Terry’s need for an
advocate is quite clear. I hope you can either do
that job — or find someone else upon whom Terry can