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“Companionship Exemption” Comment Period Ends March 21

March 8, 2012

UPDATE: On March 9, the DOL extended the public comment period to March 21. This post has been updated to reflect that change.

The U.S., which will need 1.3 million more home care workers by 2020, will not be able to meet this ever-increasing demand unless home care jobs improve.

A Department of Labor (DOL) proposal to amend the “companionship exemption” to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) would go a long way toward valuing home care workers and the important jobs they do.

The “companionship exemption” currently excludes home care workers from a guaranteed minimum wage and time-and-a-half pay for overtime. The DOL proposal would fix that, finally giving home care workers the same basic labor protections nearly every other U.S. worker enjoys.

The public has until March 21 to submit a comment on the proposal.

Thousands of Comments Already Submitted

People on all sides of the issue — consumers, employers, workers, academics, and advocates — have already weighed in on the DOL’s proposed change by submitting their own comments.

Newsday Op-Ed

Read a powerful Newsday op-ed, published on March 6, about why home care workers should be paid a fair wage.

PHI thinks that valuing the worker is the right thing to do. “This country is facing a tremendous demand for long-term services and supports,” said PHI National Policy Director Steve Edelstein in a March 7 podcast for the Fairness Initiative on Low-Wage Work.

The latest DOL employment projections, released last week, show that an additional 1.3 million home care workers will be needed to meet rising demand by 2020.

“The only way we’re going to possibly be able to keep up with that demand is to improve the quality of jobs for the home health aides and personal care aides who provide these essential services,” Edelstein said, explaining PHI’s support for limiting the companionship exemption.

Many others think so too. Some of the comments include:

  • “I am a labor economist whose research has focused on women workers, especially those with low wages. Unfortunately, home care aides are the quintessential low-wage worker… The proposed regulations would do a great deal to make this work and these workers more visible as well as more highly valued.”
  • “I am 75 years old and will be facing the probability of needing in-home care for myself and my husband in the not too distant future. I want to know that the people providing that care are being paid fairly and are well qualified to do that job. We can’t get well qualified people if they aren’t compensated fairly.”
  • “I support applying the FLSA rules to domestic service. I employ caregivers through an agency to help with my 94-year-old blind and cognitively impaired mother… Better wages and working conditions will attract the best people to do these difficult but very important jobs.”
  • “I am fortunate enough to receive home care from two wonderful and caring people. Please help ensure that these women, who are literally my lifesavers, can earn a wage more in line with the tremendous value of the services they provide for individuals, families and communities.”

To learn more about the companionship exemption — and find out how to express your opinion by leaving a comment before the March 21 deadline — visit the PHI Fair Pay for Home Care Workers site.

— by Matthew Ozga

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