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Wage and Hour Division (WHD)

Fact Sheet: Proposed Rule Changes Concerning In-Home Care Industry under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA or Act) was passed in 1938 to provide minimum wage and overtime protections for workers, to prevent unfair competition among businesses based on subminimum wages, and to spread employment by requiring employers whose employees work excessive hours to compensate employees at one-and-one-half times the regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40.

The FLSA did not initially protect workers employed directly by households in domestic service, such as cooks, housekeepers, maids, and gardeners. However, domestic workers that were employed by enterprises covered under the FLSA, such as gardeners employed by landscaping companies or a cook employed by a caterer, did received minimum wage and overtime protections even if their work was in or about a private household.

Congress extended FLSA coverage to “domestic service” workers in 1974, amending the law to apply to employees performing services of a household nature in or about a private home. There is no indication in the legislation or the Congressional history that those employees covered before this amendment, domestic workers employed by third parties, were to be excluded.

While Congress expanded protections to “domestic service” workers, the 1974 Amendments also created a limited exemption from both the minimum wage and overtime pay requirements of the Act for casual babysitters and companions for the aged and infirm, and created an exemption from the overtime pay requirement only for live-in domestic workers.

Although the regulations governing these exemptions have been substantially unchanged since they were promulgated in 1975, the in-home care industry has undergone a dramatic transformation. There has been a growing demand for long-term in-home care, and as a result the in-home care services industry has grown substantially. However, the earnings of in-home care employees remain among the lowest in the service industry, impeding efforts to improve both jobs and care. Moreover, the workers that are employed by in-home care staffing agencies are not the workers that Congress envisioned when it enacted the companionship exemption (i.e., neighbors performing elder sitting), but are instead are professional caregivers entitled to FLSA protections. In view of these changes, the Department believes it is appropriate to reconsider whether the scope of the regulations are now too broad and not in harmony with Congressional intent.

Proposed Changes to the Companionship and Live-In Worker Regulations

The Department is proposing to revise the regulations to accomplish two important purposes. First, the Department seeks to more clearly define the tasks that may be performed by an exempt companion. Second, the proposed regulations would limit the companionship exemption to companions employed only by the family or household using the services. Third party employers, such as health care staffing agencies, could not claim the exemption, even if the employee is jointly employed by the third party and the family or household.

The proposed regulations limit a companion’s duties to fellowship and protection. Examples of activities that fall within fellowship and protection may include playing cards, watching television together, visiting with friends and neighbors, taking walks, or engaging in hobbies. The proposed regulations provide some allowance for certain incidental intimate personal care services, such as occasional dressing, grooming, and driving to appointments, if this work is performed in conjunction with the fellowship and protection of the individual, and does not exceed 20 percent of the total hours worked by the companion in the workweek.

The Department’s proposal makes clear that employees performing services that do not fall within the revised definition of companionship services are not considered exempt from the minimum wage and overtime requirements:

  • The proposal would clarify that “companionship services” do not include the performance of medically-related tasks for which training is typically a prerequisite. The current regulations specifically identify trained personnel such as nurses as outside the scope of the exemption, and this clarification more clearly identifies what constitutes medically-related services.
  • Under the proposed rule, any work benefiting other members of the household, such as preparing meals or performing housekeeping or laundry for other members of the household, does not fall within the allowable incidental duties of an exempt companion.
  • The Department proposes to revise the third party regulation to apply the companionship and live-in domestic worker exemptions only to workers employed by the individual, family or household using the worker’s services. Under the proposed rule, the minimum wage and overtime exemptions would not be available to third party employers, such as home health care agencies, even if the household itself may claim the exemption (such as in a joint employment relationship).
  • The proposed regulations would revise the recordkeeping requirements for live-in domestic workers. Under the proposal, employers would be required to maintain an accurate record of hours worked by such workers, just as other covered employees must keep such records.