Nearly 2 million home care workers serve seniors and people with disabilities. They have been exempted from minimum wage and overtime law protections – until now. The Obama Administration announced new rules to extend those protections to this group of workers on December 15.
In-home workers were exempted from the Fair Labor Standards Act protections in 1974. At that time, the intent was to exempt baby-sitters and “companions” to the elderly and people with disabilities, whose activities were not expected to be long-term or involving more complex care. Since then, a rapidly growing industry has arisen to meet the needs of our aging population. Of the 1.8 million home care workers, 1.6 million work through agencies. They provide help with bathing and dressing, administration of medicines, and other care that requires training. Their pay is very low: close to 40 percent rely on public benefits like Medicaid and SNAP/food stamps. More than 9 out of 10 home care workers are women (92 percent); 30 percent are African American, and 12 percent are Hispanic.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled against Evelyn Coke, a home care worker working up to 70 hours a week with no extra overtime pay. The Court ruled that she was not entitled to overtime pay under existing Department of Labor regulations. Hence the Department’s new rules.
The new rules will apply to all in-home workers hired through agencies and to those workers hired directly by families to perform skilled caregiving. Those hired by families for companionship (engaging in hobbies, for instance) will still be exempt from the FLSA protections.
While some states provide minimum wage and/or overtime protections to home care workers under their own laws, 29 do not. According to the Obama Administration, nearly half the nation’s home care staff work in these states.
Among the advances for home care workers in these rules is the requirement of pay for travel time from job to job during the course of a work day. Sleep hours are not subject to minimum pay requirements in the case of live-in workers who are not expected to provide care overnight. But if their sleep is interrupted to provide care, or if they are at work for fewer than 24 hours, pay is required.
The new rules have not yet been published in the Federal Register, but the version as approved by the Office of Management and Budget is online. Once the Federal Register version is published, there will be a 60-day comment period.