Home Care Workers are "Companions" Judge Rules

For the million+ home care workers in the United States, the dream of finally receiving the respect and pay equality their profession so richly deserves was struck down with one judge’s decision to block a Department of Labor regulation that would force third-party employers to provide them minimum wage and overtime, just days before it was to be enacted.

Judge Richard J. Leon, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia sided with the Home Care Association of America, the International Franchise Association, and the National Association for Home Care and Hospice who oppose the exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act's minimum wage and overtime requirements.

The new rule, scheduled to go into effect in early January, would have guaranteed a national baseline minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for all direct care workers.

Congress originally excluded home care workers from the FSLA when, in 1974, they defined all in-home care services as “companionship” services. However, today’s in-home care worker is generally more professional and better trained. They provide much more than mere companionship, many times providing vital services such as help with the activities of daily living that are so important in helping seniors to live independently in their own homes.

Quality home care agencies should (and many do) pay their workers more than minimum wage and overtime for the invaluable services they provide. However, the national median wage for home health aides is less than $10 per hour and that’s why, many argue, federal mandates need to be in place. Opponents of the regulation believe if 3rd-party agencies are forced into paying more to their hourly wage workers, the cost will be passed along to the consumer — seniors and their families who are already struggling with the high cost of senior care.

Judge Leon, who was appointed to the United States District Court in February 2002, came into prominence in December of 2013 when he ruled the NSA’s collection of all Americans’ phone calls most likely violated the Constitution (specifically, the Fourth Amendment). The judge also had historically and infamously sided with the tobacco industry against the FDA.

The home healthcare industry is facing a looming shortage of qualified home health aides and senior home caregivers. Those caregivers are the ones who make it possible for the elderly to age at home in dignity and not in nursing homes, thereby saving Medicare millions of dollars. Senior care experts agree that the only way to draw a trained workforce and stem the high-turnover rate is to provide a decent living wage. For those senior caregivers who do so much more than provide “just companionship” (although that, in and of itself, is a great service), we don’t think it’s too much to ask that they are protected and guaranteed to make at least as much as the teenager who flips burgers at McDonald’s.

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