Last December, President Obama announced his intention to make revisions to the Fair Labor Standards Act, one of the oldest federal labor laws. One of the changes would be to include home-care employees as workers protected by the Act. Such a change would be a great benefit to many hard working Americans who have been excluded from its protections for many years. If covered, home care workers would be entitled to many of the minimum wage and overtime provisions.
The Department of Labor had an extended comment period on the proposed rule change, and received nearly 26,000 statements with two-thirds of them supporting the changes.
Under the proposed rule, the Department of Labor seeks to clarify who would be an “exempt” companion and who would be considered an employee that performs services that don’t fall within the new definitions and are entitled to minimum wage and overtime. This would include work such as housekeeping, cooking and medically related services.
With a work force of about 2.5 million, two-thirds of whom would be affected by the proposed rule, home health and personal care is the second-fastest-growing job category in the country, projected to double by 2018. “As women, immigrants and service workers have become the new face of labor, what happens to home care matters for the shape of our economy, the fate of unionism and the establishment of a decent standard of living for all,” explains a New York Times home health care article.
However, the new rules have met opposition with many republicans trying to expand the definition of what actions would be included under the “companionship exemption” and not qualify for minimum wage or overtime. By classifying workers as “companions” hard workers are denied the compensation and wages they are entitled to. As stated in a recent New York Times Op-Ed, “The “elder companion exemption” has allowed staffing agencies to avoid paying overtime. “It has treated women who labored to support their families as if they were teenagers picking up some spending money. Conveniently, this exemption came just as home care became a growth industry, aided by changes to Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs.”
President Obama’s proposal explicitly recognizes that housekeeping is bound up with caregiving in the home. Companionship emerges as a benefit from the human relationships essential to the job, but it isn’t the major task, as the current rule implies. Establishing the legitimacy of care as productive, necessary labor – a real job – would recognize the realities of both our aging society and our service economy. It would also begin the long-overdue work of updating labor standards for the workplaces of a new century.
As Georgia wage and hour lawyers dedicated to ensuring workers receive the wages they are entitled to, we will be closely following this proposed rule.
For more information or if you believe you have been denied all the compensation you are entitled to, please contact the top Atlanta wage and hour attorneys Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP for an immediate case evaluation.