Home Care Workers Now Eligible for Minimum Wage and Overtime Pay Protections

In late 2013, the Obama administration announced the imminent extension of minimum wage and overtime pay protections to the nearly two million Americans who provide home care, including health care, to the elderly and disabled. The new regulation is in effect as of January 1, 2015.

As a result of changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the nation’s primary wage and hour law, workers who provide home care services—including certified nursing assistants, home health care aides, personal care aides, home caregivers, and companions—are now entitled to the federal minimum wage of $7.25, as well as time-and-a-half overtime pay for hours that exceed 40 per week. At the time of the announcement, the New York Times noted that the new rule marks the end of a 40-year-old federal wage law exemption that treated qualified home health care workers no differently from babysitters, denying them both overtime pay and minimum wage protections.

Home care worker advocate Jodi Sturgeon, president of the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, stated that the ruling “corrects a long-standing injustice...Finally, home care workers have been guaranteed the same protections as almost every other American worker.”

Despite a warm reception from home health care aides and their advocates, the regulation faces backlash from home care agencies and third-party employers, who claim that the increased costs associated with minimum wage and overtime pay will prevent the sick and elderly from seeking full-time home health care aid, pushing them into nursing homes instead. To ease the transition for consumers, the Department of Labor announced that it will delay enforcement of the rule until June 30, 2015, after which date it will “exercise its discretion” in determining whether to enforce for the remainder of the year, based on entities’ “good faith efforts” to bring their programs into compliance with the new overtime pay and minimum wage requirements.

“We have consistently emphasized the importance of implementing the rule in a manner that both protects consumers and expands wage protections for direct-care workers,” the Department of Labor said in a statement shortly before the regulation took effect. “We believe this non-enforcement policy will help achieve both of those goals.”

Prior to the regulation’s passage, 15 states already provided overtime pay and minimum wage protections to home care aides. Laura Fortman of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division noted, “We have not seen any evidence that [eliminating the wage law exemption] has resulted in job loss or any serious negative impact for the workers or for the people using the services…We think the workers providing this critical work should be receiving the same basic protection and coverage as the vast majority of American workers.”