This is one of those small policy changes that can make a big difference in the lives of millions of Americans.
The Obama administration announced on Tuesday that it was extending minimum wage and overtime protections to the nation’s nearly two million home care workers.
Advocates for low-wage workers have pushed for this change, asserting that home care workers, who care for elderly and disabled Americans, were wrongly classified into the same “companionship services” category as baby sitters – a group that is exempt from minimum wage and overtime coverage. Under the new rule, home care aides, unlike baby sitters, would be protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the nation’s main wage and hour law.
In an unusual move, the administration said the new regulation would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2015, even though regulations often take effect 60 days after being issued. The delay until 2015 is to give families that use these attendants, as well as state Medicaid programs, time to prepare for the new rule.
It’s a hole in labor law that’s often overlooked – home care workers have been exempt for decades from federal wage requirements
The administration first announced the proposed change nearly two years ago, at which point a spirited debate unfolded, with congressional Republicans and the for-profit home care agencies lobbying aggressively against the change.
The Obama administration obviously disagreed. “What kind of a society are we, what kind of values do we stand for – unless we ensure that those administering that care receive basic workplace protections under the law?” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a statement.
The question for me is how this problem came to exist in the first place.
Sarah Kliff had a good write-up on the backstory.
Since 1974, the minimum wage has had something called the “companionship exemption,” which allows people who perform companionship roles – babysitting, for example – to be paid a wage lower than the federal minimum.
For decades, home health aides existed in this companionship category and were exempted from federal minimum wage protections. The Department of Labor rule today moves them out of that exemption, meaning that they minimum wage standards now apply, as do overtime regulations, which require companies to pay time-and-a-half for any hours worked beyond a 40-hour work week.
The change appears long overdue.