WASHINGTON — Fulfilling a promise by President Obama to ensure that direct care workers receive a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a final rule today extending the Fair Labor Standards Act's minimum wage and overtime protections to most of the nation's workers who provide essential home care assistance to elderly people and people with illnesses, injuries or disabilities. This change will result in nearly two million direct care workers — such as home health aides, personal care aides and certified nursing assistants — receiving the same basic protections already provided to most U.S. workers. It will also help guarantee that those who rely on the assistance of direct care workers have access to consistent and high-quality care from a stable and increasingly professional workforce.
"Many American families rely on the vital services provided by direct care workers," said Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. "Because of their hard work, countless Americans are able to live independently, go to work and participate more fully in their communities. Today we are taking an important step toward guaranteeing that these professionals receive the wage protections they deserve while protecting the right of individuals to live at home."
"Direct care workers play a critical role in ensuring access to high-quality home care that many people need in order to remain healthy and independent in their communities, and they should be compensated fairly for this important work," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. "We will continue to engage with consumers, states, advocates and home care providers in the implementation of this rule to help people with disabilities, older adults and their families receive quality, person-centered services."
The home care industry has grown dramatically over the last several decades as more Americans choose to receive long-term care at home instead of in nursing homes or other facilities. Despite this growth and the fact that direct care workers increasingly receive skills training and perform work previously done by trained nurses, direct care workers remain among the lowest paid in the service industry. There are an estimated 1.9 million direct care workers in the U.S., with nearly all currently employed by home care agencies. Approximately 90 percent of direct care workers are women, and nearly 50 percent are minorities.
Today's announcement extends minimum wage and overtime protections to all direct care workers employed by home care agencies and other third parties. Fifteen states already extend state minimum wage and overtime protections to direct care workers, and an additional six states and the District of Columbia mandate state minimum wage protections.
"The department carefully considered the comments received from individuals who receive home care, workers, third-party employers and administrators of state programs that support home care," said Laura Fortman, the principal deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division, the agency that administers and enforces the FLSA. "In response, the final rule provides increased flexibility, and gives programs sufficient time to make any needed adjustments. Together these changes will allow the rule to better meet consumers' needs while better protecting direct care workers."
The final rule also clarifies that direct care workers who perform medically-related services for which training is typically a prerequisite are not companionship workers and therefore are entitled to the minimum wage and overtime. And, in accordance with Congress' initial intent, individual workers who are employed only by the person receiving services or that person's family or household and engaged primarily in fellowship and protection (providing company, visiting or engaging in hobbies) and care incidental to such activities, will still be considered exempt from the FLSA's minimum wage and overtime protections.
The rule will be effective Jan. 1, 2015. The Department of Labor has created a new web portal with interactive web tools, fact sheets and other materials to help families, other employers and workers understand the new requirements. These, along with information about upcoming webinars on the rule, are available at www.dol.gov/whd/homecare/.