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DOL to Extend Fair Pay to Home Care Workers

September 17, 2013

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has announced that it will end the exemption of home care workers from basic wage protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

For decades, home care workers were defined by FLSA as mere “companions” to elders and people with disabilities, and therefore were excluded from FLSA’s provisions regarding minimum-wage and overtime pay.

The DOL announced on September 17 that it will publish a final rule narrowing this “companionship exemption,” allowing home care workers to be entitled to fair pay.

“Direct care workers play a critical role in ensuring access to high-quality home care that many people need in order to remain healthy and independent in their communities,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in a statement. “They should be compensated fairly for this important work.” 

PHI President Jodi M. Sturgeon described the announcement as “a tremendous victory for home care aides, a workforce earning near-poverty wages while providing vital personal care and health-related services to America’s elders and people living with disabilities.

“We are pleased that the Obama administration has fulfilled its promise to treat home care workers with respect and fairness,” she added.

President Obama had initially proposed a change to the companionship exemption in December 2011.

Media outlets that reported on this story include The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press.

Building a Quality Workforce

PHI estimates the total home care workforce excluded from federal labor protections to comprise 2 million home health aides and personal care workers.

But by 2020, an expected 4 million workers will be necessary to meet the rising demand for home care, as the baby-boomer generation enters retirement age and will expect to receive supports in their own homes and communities.

“Attracting enough workers to fill these positions will be challenging,” Sturgeon said. “Narrowing the companionship exemption is an essential first step.”

The rule is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2015, which will allow “for a thoughtful and deliberate implementation process that will minimize any potentially disruptive impacts to Medicaid services and state budgets,” Sturgeon said.

The DOL has set up a website with more information about the rule change.

— by Matthew Ozga

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