Fulfilling a promise by President Barack Obama to ensure that direct care workers receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, the Department of Labor announced a final rule that extends the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime protections to workers who provide essential home care assistance to elderly people and people with illnesses, injuries or disabilities. This change will result in nearly 2 million direct care workers receiving the same basic protections already provided to most U.S. workers.
The new Home Care Final Rule also will help guarantee that those who rely on the assistance of direct care workers have access to consistent and high-quality care from a stable and increasingly professional workforce. Every 8 seconds, someone in America turns 65. By 2020, 5 million care workers will be needed to meet the growing demand for care, meaning the care workforce will need to more than double within the next 7 years.
“Many American families rely on the vital services provided by direct care workers,” said Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. “Because of their hard work, countless Americans are able to live independently, go to work and participate more fully in their communities. Today we are taking an important step toward guaranteeing that these professionals receive the wage protections they deserve while protecting the right of individuals to live at home.”
"The Department of Labor took an important step towards stabilizing one of America’s fastest-growing workforces, and one made up predominantly of women, women of color and immigrants,” said Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of the Caring Across Generations campaign. “This change is a long overdue show of respect for women in the workplace and for the important work of supporting seniors and people with disabilities."
The home care industry has grown dramatically over the last several decades as more Americans choose to receive long-term care at home instead of in nursing homes or other facilities. Despite this growth and the fact that direct care workers increasingly receive skills training and perform work previously done by trained nurses, direct care workers remain among the lowest paid in the service industry. There are an estimated 1.9 million direct care workers in the United States, with nearly all currently employed by home care agencies. Approximately 90 percent of direct care workers are women, and nearly 50 percent are minorities.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, noted that extending protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act to home healthcare workers finally removes an exemption that denied basic minimum wage and overtime protections to millions of home healthcare workers.
“Beginning in 2015, millions of home health workers will no longer be treated like sharecroppers in scrubs,” said Henderson. “This outdated exemption was written nearly 40 years ago, when the home healthcare industry barely existed. Today’s in-home health care is no longer made up of a few ‘elder sitters’ as they were once known, but is a multi-billion dollar industry with enormous profit margins.”
He added that the home healthcare industry “has benefited greatly from this exemption.”
The final rule extends minimum wage and overtime protections to all direct care workers employed by home care agencies and other third parties. Fifteen states already extend state minimum wage and overtime protections to direct care workers, and an additional six states and the District of Columbia mandate state minimum wage protections.
"The department carefully considered the comments received from individuals who receive home care, workers, third-party employers and administrators of state programs that support home care," said Laura Fortman, the principal deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division, the agency that administers and enforces the FLSA. "In response, the final rule provides increased flexibility, and gives programs sufficient time to make any needed adjustments. Together these changes will allow the rule to better meet consumers' needs while better protecting direct care workers."
The final rule also clarifies that direct care workers who perform medically related services for which training is typically a prerequisite are not companionship workers and therefore are entitled to the minimum wage and overtime. And, in accordance with Congress' initial intent, individual workers who are employed only by the person receiving services or that person's family or household and engaged primarily in fellowship and protection (providing company, visiting or engaging in hobbies) and care incidental to such activities, will still be considered exempt from the FLSA's minimum wage and overtime protections.
The rule will be effective Jan. 1, 2015.
“As a care worker I am grateful that I will finally have the same protections as other workers do so I can continue to provide the best support to my clients,” said Myrla Baldonado, a former care worker who currently works as a household worker organizer with Latino Union in Chicago.