WASHINGTON – The Obama administration approved new rules Tuesday that extend minimum wage and overtime pay to nearly 2 million home health care workers who help the elderly and disabled with everyday tasks such as bathing, eating or taking medicine.
Home care aides have been exempt from federal wage laws since 1974 when they were placed in the same category as neighborhood baby sitters. But their ranks have surged with the aging population, and the field is now one of the fastest-growing professions. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said the workers deserve the same legal protections as most other employees.
“Home care workers are no longer treated like teenage baby sitters performing casual employment under this final rule,” Perez said. “They are treated with dignity and their hard work is indeed rewarded.”
Labor unions and worker advocacy groups have been seeking the change for years, arguing that nearly half of caregivers live at or below the poverty level or receive public benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid.
But some health care companies claim new overtime requirements will make it tougher for families to afford home care for their aging parents. Lobbyists for the $84 billion industry argue the new requirements could reduce the quality of care and even lower the take-home pay of caregivers if companies decide not to send workers out for shifts longer than eight hours.
The new rules will take effect in January 2015 and will cover home health aides, personal care aides and certified nursing assistants that provide care to the elderly and people with injuries, illnesses and disabilities.