DOL Proposes Tighter Overtime, Minimum Wage Rules For Home Care Workers, Continues Scrutiny Of Health Care Employers

The U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) plans to propose new rules that would provide minimum wage and overtime protections for nearly two million workers who provide in-home care services for the elderly and infirm.  WHD’s focus on home health workers is an extension of its expanded regulation and enforcement efforts targeting a broad range of health care industry employers. Home care and other health industry employers should act to manage their rising exposures to minimum wage, overtime and other federal and state wage and hour law risks.  Additionally, health industry and other employers concerned about the potential cost or other implications of the proposed regulatory changes also should consider submitting comments to the WHD by the February comment deadline.

On December 15, 2011 the WHD announced that it will publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking[1] (NPRM) to revise the companionship and live-in worker regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA):

  • To more clearly define the tasks that may be performed by an exempt companion;
  • To limit the companionship exemption to companions employed only by the family or household using the services; and
  • To provide that third party employers, such as in-home care staffing agencies, could not claim the companionship exemption or the overtime exemption for live-in domestic workers, even if the employee is jointly employed by the third party and the family or household.

When Congress expanded protections to “domestic service” workers in 1974, it exempted casual babysitters and companions for the aged and inform from both the minimum wage and overtime pay requirements of the FLSA and exempted live-in domestic workers from the overtime pay requirement only. While WHD has left regulations governing this exemption substantially unchanged since first issued in 1975, it now believes the in-home care service industry. workers employed by in-home care staffing agencies are not the workers that Congress envisioned in enacting the companionship exemption (i.e., neighbors performing elder sitting).

As a result of these determines, WHD is moving to modify its existing rules to broaden protections for professionally employed home care workers as well as outreaching to inform employers and workers about the requirements that it perceives employers of these workers must meet.  

The proposed tightening of regulations for home health workers follows a general toughening by WHD of its regulation and enforcement of wage and hour laws in the health care industry.  See, e.g. Home health care company in Dallas agrees to pay 80 nurses more than $92,000 in back wages following US Labor Department investigation; US Department of Labor secures nearly $62,000 in back overtime wages for 21 health care employees in Pine Bluff, Ark.; US Department of Labor initiative targeted toward increasing FLSA compliance in New York’s health care industry; US Department of Labor initiative targeted toward residential health care industry in Connecticut and Rhode Island to increase FLSA compliance; Partners HealthCare Systems agrees to pay 700 employees more than $2.7 million in overtime back wages to resolve U.S. Labor Department lawsuit; US Labor Department sues Kentucky home health care provider to obtain more than $512,000 in back wages and damages for 22 employees; and Buffalo, Minn.-based home health care provider agrees to pay more than $150,000 in back wages following US Labor Department investigation.

Coupled with these and other enforcement efforts against health industry employers, WHD’s announcement of plans to tighten rules for home care givers.  In connection with its announcement of the planned regulatory changes, for instance, WHD highlighted the following guidance about the wage and hour rules that employers of home care workers can anticipate being required to meet when employing these workers:

Violation of wage and hour laws exposes health care and other employers to significant back pay awards, substantial civil penalties and, if the violation is found to be willful, even potential criminal liability.   Because states all have their own wage and hour laws, employers may face liability under either or both laws.   

In light of the proposed regulatory changes and demonstrated willingness of WHD and private plaintiffs to bring actions against employers violating these rules, health care and others employing home care workers should take well-documented steps to manage their risks.  These employers should both confirm the adequacy of their practices under existing rules, as well as evaluate and begin preparing to respond to the proposed modifications to these rules.  In both cases, employers of home care or other health care workers are encouraged to critically evaluate their classification or workers, both with respect to their status as employees versus contractor or leased employees, as well as their characterization as exempt versus non-exempt for wage and hour law purposes.  In addition, given the nature of the scheduled frequently worked by home care givers, their employers also generally should pay particular attention to the adequacy of practices for recordkeeping.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 23 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters.

Throughout her career, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and to respond to health care, human resources, tax, privacy, safety, antitrust, civil rights, and other laws as well as with internal investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns including a number of programs and publications on OCR Civil Rights rules and enforcement actions. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at www.solutionslawpress.com

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.


[1] WHD’s announcement of the planned rule notes that this draft shared December 15 remains subject to change before formally published in the Federal Register

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