National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
This document has been archived because some of the information it contains may be out of date. (6/09)
Handbook for Implementing a Comprehensive Work-Based Learning Program
According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (Third Edition)
The Goal of Productive Employment for All Youth
In 1990, the U.S. President and state governors adopted six ambitious
national education goals. These goals apply to all youth. They require
that all students leave school literate and with the knowledge and skills
necessary to compete in a global economy and be able to exercise the rights
and responsibilities of citizenship. Foremost among these goals is access
to productive employment in our modern economy, whether immediately following
secondary school or after further postsecondary study.
To support these goals, preparation for employment must become a focal
point of every student’s educational program. This is especially
true for youth with disabilities. Congress underscored this need by including
transition services requirements in the IDEA Amendments of 1990, and most
recently in the 1997 IDEA Amendments (P.L. 105-17), and the IDEA 1998
final regulations. These actions serve as an impetus for schools to intensify
their efforts to prepare youth with disabilities for productive employment
and other post school, adult-living objectives. Required transition services
are described in IDEA 1997 as:
A coordinated set of activities for a student with a disability that
is designed within an outcome-oriented process, that promotes movement
from school to post school activities, including postsecondary education,
vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment),
continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or
community participation; is based on the individual student’s needs,
taking into account the student’s preferences and interests; and
includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development
of employment and other post school adult-living objectives, and if appropriate,
acquisition of daily-living skills and functional vocational evaluation.
Recent studies reinforce the need to strengthen the connection between
education and employment. For example, a national longitudinal transition
study of special education students found that enrollment in occupationally
oriented career and technical education programs was significantly related
to a lower likelihood of youth with disabilities dropping out of school,
and that youth who took career and technical education during school or
had work experience as part of their educational program were more likely
to be employed after high school. Research supports the value of a functional
skills approach to curriculum and training for youth with disabilities.
This involves teaching the skills needed to enhance independent adult
living in community settings.
Career and technical education has long been an option for preparing
youth with disabilities for productive employment. However, most of these
programs in the past relied heavily on simulated work experience in classroom
settings. This approach has not led to productive employment in integrated
work environments for many students. In fact, the outcome often has been
sheltered employment in segregated work settings. The skills acquired
through classroom or simulated work experiences do not generalize to typical
work settings, and therefore do not meet the goal of post school productive
employment for youth with disabilities. When career and technical education
and training occur primarily through classroom or simulated settings,
youth with disabilities do not acquire social skills normally built through
interactions with colleagues and coworkers. These skills are critical
to long-term employment success.
The WBL Approach to Productive Employment for Youth with Disabilities
Work-Based Learning (WBL) is an effective approach to employment preparation
for youth with disabilities. WBL delivers career and technical education
and training to youth with disabilities in workplace settings rather than
in typical school settings. Students aged 14 years or older engage in
nonpaid career exploration, career assessment, and work-related training
experiences to identify their career interests, assess their employment
skills and training needs, and develop the skills and attitudes necessary
for paid employment. After such instruction, students engage in paid cooperative
There are four distinct components to the WBL approach: career exploration,
career assessment, work-related training, and cooperative work experience.
Students often progress sequentially through all four components. However,
some students participate in only one or two components before moving
to cooperative work experience, depending on their instructional needs.
The career exploration component exposes students briefly to a variety
of work settings to help them make decisions about future career directions
or occupations. The exploration process involves examining interests,
values, beliefs, and strengths in relation to the demands and other characteristics
of work environments. This occurs most often through worksite field trips,
job shadowing, guest speakers, and career mentorship. Through career exploration,
students gain information by watching work being performed, talking with
employees, and actually trying out work under direct supervision of school
personnel. Exploration enables students to make choices regarding career
or occupational areas they wish to pursue. The student, parents, worksite
employees, and school personnel use this information to develop transition
planning in the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
The career assessment component leads to individual training objectives
for a youth with a disability. Career assessment activities may include
but are not limited to computerized assessments, career and technical
education classes, career mentorship, service learning projects, volunteering,
and extended observation. In this WBL component, the student undertakes
work assignments in various business settings under the direct supervision
of school personnel and employees. Assessment data are systematically
collected detailing the student’s interests, aptitudes, special
needs, learning styles, work habits, behavior, personal and social skills,
values and attitudes toward work, and work tolerance. The student rotates
among various occupational settings corresponding to the student’s
range of employment preferences as situational assessments are completed
by school personnel and worksite employees. As a result, students select
work settings in which they can best pursue career or occupational areas
matching their interests and aptitudes. Future training objectives are
matched with these selections. These training objectives become a part
of the student’s subsequent IEP.
The work-related training component of WBL places the student in various
employment settings for nonpaid work experiences. The student, parents,
and school personnel develop a detailed, written training plan, which
includes competencies to be acquired, method(s) of instruction, and procedures
for evaluating the training experience. Training is closely supervised
by a representative of the school or a designated employee/supervisor.
The purpose of this component is to enable students to develop the competencies
and behaviors needed to secure paid employment. As the student achieves
the training objectives in a particular employment setting, the student
moves to other employment environments where additional or related learning
and reinforcement of current competencies and behaviors can occur. (A
business providing work-related training may derive no benefit from the
student. If a business does derive benefit, the nonemployment relationship
becomes a paid employer-employee relationship, or the student must move
to another environment.)
Cooperative Work Experience
A cooperative work experience consists of an arrangement between the
school and an employer that uses the workplace and its environment to
create links between the learning occurring in school and the skills required
in the workplace. The experience is closely supervised by a representative
of the school or a designated employee/supervisor. Typically during the
cooperative work experience the student attends a class or seminar at
the school to reinforce and supplement the experience. Paid for work performed
in the employment setting, the student may receive payment from the employer,
from the school’s cooperative career and technical program, from
another employment program operating in the community such as those supported
by the Workforce Investment Act, or a combination of these. The student
is paid the same wage as nondisabled employees performing the same work.
In some instances, arrangements are made by the school and employer through
the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division to pay a special minimum
wage called “commensurate wage rate” (see The
FLSA and the WBL Cooperative Work Experience Component
for a brief description of these FLSA provisions).
The school and employer reach a written agreement before the student
enters the cooperative work experience. This agreement includes a clear
stipulation of the student’s wages, benefits, and specific individual
training plan. This agreement may also include follow-along services to
ensure the student adjusts to the work assignments and improves performance
and productivity over time. It is likely that students may engage in several
cooperative work experience placements as part of their special education
experience during school.
Social Security Work
For students receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI)/Social
Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) cash benefits and participating
in paid employment through WBL, the SSI work incentives program
allows youth with disabilities in transition to retain their benefits
while participating in paid employment and, in some instances, actually
increase their monthly income. The Student Earned Income Exclusion
(SEIE) can readily be used by youth with disabilities engaged in
the cooperative work experience component of WBL. Other SSI work
incentives available to transition-age youth with disabilities are:
Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE); Plan for Achieving Self-Support
(PASS); Blind Work Expenses (BWE); and Property Essential to Self-Support
(PESS). To be eligible to participate in the work incentives program,
students must first be receiving or eligible to receive SSI/SSDI
cash benefits. For information on SSI and the work incentives program,
contact the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213.
In addition, the following two manuals previously published by
the National Transition Network provide information on this topic:
See Appendix C
of this publication for a brief description of the SSI work incentives
available to transition-age students. Appendix C also includes an
example of a youth with a disability who is participating in a cooperative
work experience through her school, receiving SSI cash benefits,
and accessing the Student Earned Income Exclusion work incentive.
Requirements of the FLSA Related to WBL
Because WBL activities take place in employment settings, these activities
must comply with the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
The FLSA is the federal legislation establishing minimum wage, overtime
pay, record-keeping requirements (i.e., personal employee information,
wages, hours), and child labor. Employees are entitled to a regular wage
of at least $5.15 (current minimum wage) per hour and overtime pay of
at least one and one-half times their regular wage for all hours more
than 40 in a work week. In states with a minimum wage rate higher than
the federal, the higher rate applies.
In order to promote WBL programs to prepare youth with disabilities for
productive, paid employment, the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education
entered into an agreement in September 1992 and adopted the following
Statement of Principle:
The U.S. Departments of Labor and Education are committed to the
continued development and implementation of individual education programs,
in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),
that will facilitate the transition of students with disabilities from
school to employment within their communities. This transition must take
place under conditions that will not jeopardize the protections afforded
by the Fair Labor Standards Act to program participants, employees, employers,
or programs providing rehabilitation services to individuals with disabilities.
The FLSA and WBL Career Exploration, Career Assessment,
and Work-Related Training Components
The Departments of Labor and Education joined this statement of principle
with Policy Guidelines governing the participation of youth with disabilities
in employment settings for career exploration, career assessment, and
work-related training. Youth with disabilities who engage in nonpaid career
exploration, career assessment, and work-related training activities are
not considered employees of the businesses in which they receive these
services only if they can demonstrate compliance with all of the guidelines
below. When schools and employers engaging in these WBL activities with
youth with disabilities adhere to all of the following guidelines, they
do not violate the provisions of the FLSA. The guidelines are:
- Participants will be youth with physical and/or mental disabilities
for whom competitive employment at or above the minimum wage level is
not immediately obtainable and who, because of their disability, will
need intensive ongoing support to perform in a work setting.
- Participation will be for career exploration, career assessment, or
work-related training at a worksite placement under the general supervision
of public school personnel.
- Worksite placements will be clearly defined components of Individualized
Education Programs (IEPs) developed and designed for the benefit of
each student. The statement of needed transition services established
for the exploration, assessment, training, or cooperative work experience
components will be included in the student’s IEP.
- Information contained in a student’s IEP will not have to be
made available; however, documentation as to the student’s enrollment
in the work-based learning program will be made available to the Departments
of Labor and Education. The student and his or her parent(s) or guardian(s)
must be fully informed of the IEP and the career exploration, career
assessment, or work-related training components and have indicated voluntary
participation with the understanding that participation in these components
does not entitle the student-participant to wages or other compensation
for duties performed at the worksite placement.
- The activities of the student at the worksite do not result in an
immediate advantage to the business. The Department of Labor looks at
the following factors to determine if this guideline is being met:
- There has been no displacement of employees, vacant positions
have not been filled, employees have not been relieved of assigned
duties, and the students are not performing services that, although
not ordinarily performed by employees, clearly are of benefit to
- The students are under continued and direct supervision by either
representatives of the school or by employees of the business. The
student receives ongoing instruction and close supervision at the
worksite during the entire experience, resulting in any tasks the
student performs being offset by the burden to the employer of providing
ongoing training and supervision.
- Such placements are made according to the requirements of the
student’s IEP and not to meet the labor needs of the business.
- The periods of time spent by the students at any one site or in
any clearly distinguishable job classification are specifically
limited by the IEP.
- While the existence of an employment relationship will not be determined
exclusively on the basis of number of hours, as a general rule, each
component will not exceed the following limitation during any one school
- Career exploration–5 hours per job experienced
- Career assessment–90 hours per job experienced
- Work-Related training–120 hours per job experienced
- Students are not automatically entitled to employment at the business
at the conclusion of their IEP. However, once a student has become an
employee, the student cannot be considered a trainee at that particular
worksite placement unless in a clearly different occupation.
Schools and participating businesses are responsible for ensuring that
all seven of these guidelines are met. If any of these guidelines are
not met, an employment relationship exists, and participating businesses
can be held responsible for full compliance with the FLSA.
The FLSA and WBL Cooperative Work Experience Component
In this WBL component, the youth with a disability is paid for work
performed in the employment setting. Therefore, an employment relationship
exists; the student is an employee and is entitled to the same wages as
nondisabled employees performing the same tasks; schools and businesses
are subject to all of the provisions of the FLSA, (i.e., minimum wage,
overtime pay, record-keeping, and child labor). This is true whether the
student is paid by the business, school, or a third party.
The FLSA contains several provisions addressing employees who are age
14 and 15, age 16 and older, or workers with disabilities. These provisions
are described as follows.
- Youth age 14 and 15: Under the FLSA child labor provisions, these
students may work in various jobs outside school hours no more than
three hours on a school day with a limit of 18 hours in a school week;
no more than eight hours on a nonschool day with a limit of 40 hours
in a nonschool week; and not before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m., except
from June 1 through Labor Day, when the evening hour is extended to
9:00 p.m. These students may not work in jobs declared hazardous by
the Secretary of Labor.
- Youth age 16 and 17: Under the FLSA child labor provisions, these
students may work anytime for unlimited hours in all jobs not declared
hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. (States often have limited hours
for students age 16 and 17. The school and employer are responsible
for knowing and enforcing the hours. When state rules are stricter than
federal rules, state rules apply.)
- 18 is the minimum age for employment in occupations declared hazardous
by the Secretary of Labor. For the purposes of this manual, a hazardous
occupation is defined as an occupation that may be detrimental to the
health and well being of children under 18 years of age or an occupation
that may jeopardize their educational opportunities. The rules prohibiting
working in hazardous occupations (HO) apply either on an industry or
an occupational basis no matter what industry the job is in. Parents
employing their own children are subject to these same rules. Some of
these hazardous occupations have definitive exemptions. In addition,
limited apprentice/student-learner exemptions apply to those occupations
marked with an asterisk (*). Youth age 18 and older may be placed in
any hazardous occupation if it is developmentally appropriate for the
Manufacturing and storing of explosives.
Driving a motor vehicle and being an outside helper on
a motor vehicle.
Logging and sawmilling.
Power-driven woodworking machines.
Exposure to radioactive substances.
Power-driven hoisting apparatuses.
Power-driven metal-forming, punching, and shearing machines.
Mining, other than coal mining.
Meat packing or processing (including the use of power-driven
meat slicing machines).
Power-driven bakery machines.
Power-driven paper-product machines.
Manufacturing brick, tile, and related products.
Power-driven circular saws, band saws, and guillotine shears.
Wrecking, demolition, and shipbreaking operations.
More details about the above listings can be obtained by reviewing the
child labor regulations. (Each state may have additional restrictions.)
For details about statutory changes made in 2004 regarding HO #2 and HO
#12 please see the fact sheets available on the U.S. Department of Labor
Web site at http://www.dol.gov/esa/regs/compliance/whd/whdfs34.htm
- Youth age 18 or older may perform any task, whether hazardous or
not. (It is also important to consider whether the job or occupation
is developmentally appropriate.) Youth age 16 or 17 may perform any
non-hazardous job. Youth age 14 and 15 may not work in the manufacturing
or mining industries or in any hazardous job. In addition, youth age
14 or 15 may not work in the following occupations:
- Communications or public utilities jobs;
- Construction or repair jobs;
- Driving a motor vehicle or helping a driver;
- Manufacturing and mining occupations;
- Power-driven machinery or hoisting apparatuses other than typical
- Processing occupations;
- Public messenger jobs;
- Transporting persons or property;
- Workrooms where products are manufactured, mined, or processed;
- Warehousing and storage.
- A 14- or 15-year-old may work in retail stores, food service establishments,
and gasoline service stations. However, a 14- or 15-year-old may not
perform the following tasks in the retail and service industries:
- Boiler or engine room work, whether in or about;
- Cooking, except at soda fountains, lunch counters, snack bars,
and cafeteria counters;
- Freezers or meat coolers work;
- Loading or unloading goods on or off trucks, railcars, or conveyors;
- Meat processing area work;
- Maintenance or repair of a building or its equipment;
- Operating, setting up, adjusting, cleaning, oiling, or repairing
power-driven food slicers, grinders, choppers or cutters, and bakery
- Outside window washing, or work standing on a window sill, ladder,
scaffold, or similar equipment; and
- Warehouse work, except office and clerical work.
- A 14- or 15-year-old may perform these tasks in the retail and service
- Bagging and carrying customer’s orders;
- Cashiering, selling, modeling, art work, advertising, window trimming,
or comparative shopping;
- Cleaning fruits and vegetables;
- Clean-up work and grounds maintenance (the young worker may use
vacuums and floor waxers, but he or she cannot use power-driven
mowers, cutters, and trimmers);
- Delivery work by foot, bicycle, or public transportation;
- Kitchen and other work in preparing and serving food and drinks,
but not cooking or baking (see hazardous jobs);
- Office and clerical work;
- Pricing and tagging goods, assembling orders, packing, or shelving;
- Pumping gas, cleaning and polishing cars and trucks (but the young
worker cannot repair cars, use garage lifting rack, or work in pits);
- Wrapping, weighing, pricing, and stocking any goods as long as
the young worker does not work where meat is being prepared and
does not work in freezers or meat coolers.
- Student learners: High-school students at least age 16 who are enrolled
in career and technical education can be employed at a special minimum
wage rate of not less than 75 percent of the minimum wage (i.e., $3.86
under the present $5.15 per hour minimum wage), provided authority is
obtained from the Department of Labor Regional Office of the Wage and
Hour Division for each student before he/she begins employment.
- Full-time student program: Full-time students working in retail or
service stores, agriculture, or colleges and universities can be employed
at a special minimum wage of not less than 85 percent of the minimum
wage (i.e., $4.38 under the present $5.15 per hour minimum wage). Employers
must first obtain a certificate from the Department of Labor Regional
Office of the Wage and Hour Division. This certificate also limits the
number of hours a student may work to 8 hours per day and no more than
20 hours per week during the school year and 40 hours per week when
school is out, and requires employers to follow all child labor laws.
- Youth minimum wage: Section 6(g) of the FLSA allows employers to pay
employees under age 20 a youth minimum wage of not less than $4.25 per
hour for a limited time period of 90 consecutive calendar days, not
work days. The 90-day period starts with and includes the first day
of work. Where state or local law requires payment of a minimum wage
higher than $4.25 an hour for employees under age 20, the higher state
or local minimum wage rule would apply. A break of service does not
affect the calculation of the 90-day period. For example, if a student
initially worked for an employer over a period of 60 consecutive calendar
days during the summer and then quits to return to school, the 90-day
eligibility period ends for this employee with this employer 30 days
after he/she quits (i.e., 90 consecutive calendar days after initial
employment). If this same student returned later to work again for the
same employer, the employer would not be able to pay the student the
youth minimum wage. Individuals under age 20 may be paid the youth minimum
wage for up to 90 consecutive calendar days after initial employment
by more than one employer. Employers may not displace regular employees
to hire someone at the youth wage.
- Workers with disabilities in supported-work programs: Section 14 of
the FLSA allows workers with disabilities to be employed at wage rates
that may be below the statutory minimum, but wages paid must always
be commensurate with the workers’ productivity as compared to
the productivity of nondisabled workers performing the same tasks. To
pay a wage rate below the statutory minimum, an employer must obtain
a special minimum wage certificate from the Department of Labor Wage
and Hour Midwest Regional Office (see Appendix A); the employer must
obtain the certificate before employing a worker with a disability at
less than the minimum wage.
Schools operating WBL programs should not rely solely on the preceding
description of the FLSA provisions that apply when students participate
in the cooperative work experience component of WBL. Schools and businesses
may consult the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration,
Wage and Hour Division Regional Office for additional guidance (see Appendix
A) and state and local government agencies.
With the issuance of policy guidelines governing the WBL components of
career exploration, career assessment, and work-related training, the
U.S. Departments of Labor and Education have cleared the way for schools
to launch or expand their WBL programs for youth with disabilities. Several
state and local education agencies have contacted the Office of Special
Education Programs within the U.S. Department of Education with questions
about applying the guidelines to their own WBL programs. The
following section of this handbook lists the
questions most frequently asked about operating WBL programs consistent
with the FLSA, and the responses to these questions developed by the U.S.
Departments of Education and Labor.
896 KB, 76 pages
Citation: Johnson, D. R., Sword,
C., & Habhegger, B. (2004). Essential tools: Handbook for implementing
a comprehensive work-based learning program according to the Fair Labor
Standards Act (3rd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: University of
Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National Center on Secondary
Education and Transition.
Permission is granted to duplicate this publication in its entirety or
portions thereof. Upon request, this publication will be made available
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on Community Integration Publications Office, 109 Pattee Hall, 150
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This document was published by the National
Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported
through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department
of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed
herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department
of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred.
The University of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Education, and the
National Center on Secondary Education and Transition are equal opportunity
employers and educators.