New Rules Would Give Home Health Care Workers Wage Protections

The Obama Administration has proposed new rules to give home health workers minimum wage and overtime protections. Under the current law, home health care workers are considered companions and are exempted from minimum wage laws.

The home health care worker exemption (called the companionship exemption) was put into place in 1974 to allow family and friends to provide care without worrying about minimum wage and overtime provisions. However, since the exemption was added to the law, the home health care industry has grown. According to an article in the New York Times, 90 percent of home health care workers work for agencies. While most of these workers receive at least the minimum wage, many do not receive overtime pay if they work for more than 40 hours a week.

The proposed new rule would amend the companionship exemption so that it does not apply to home care workers who are employed by third parties or to home care professionals employed directly by families. It would still exempt casual babysitters and caregivers. The Department of Labor is considering comments before it issues the final rule; comments are due by March 21, 2012. 

The home health care industry has been fighting the rule, arguing it would affect quality of care. USA Today reported that home health care industry officials claim changing the rule will result in cuts to workers' hours and could force seniors into nursing homes. Proponents of the rule argue these workers should have the same protections as other workers and that increased wages will result in lower turnover rates.