In December, 2011, the WHD published a proposed rule that would expand minimum wage and overtime protections to all home care workers employed by third parties, such as staffing agencies. It also would clarify that individuals performing skilled in-home care work are entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay. However, individuals engaged by families for true companionship or fellowship activities, such as visiting with friends or pursuing hobbies, still would be considered “companions” and not be required to meet the act’s labor standards provisions. See Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).
Among other things, the NPRM proposes 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.
Many have expressed concerns about the potential added costs that changes proposed in the NPRM would trigger in providing in home health and companion care for aging and disabled family members. The extension of the comment deadline provides added time for members of the public concerned about these rules to share their input.
Whether or not the proposed rule is adopted, the growing aggressiveness of the WHD and private plaintiffs to bring actions against employers violating minimum wage and overtime rules means 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 workforce, risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. 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 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry 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. Her presentations and programs include How to Ensure That Your Organization Is In Compliance With Regulations Governing Discrimination, as well as a wide range of other workshops, programs and publications on discrimination and cultural diversity, as well as a broad range of compliance, operational and risk management, and other health industry matters.
Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, 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 responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.
If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see here.
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