Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

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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 boyfriend.

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 depend.

Good luck,

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