Changing Rules for Home Care Wages Could Backfire, Hurt Workers

Restricting exemptions for home care workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act could actually backfire and hurt both the workers and the seniors they serve, writes a Houston, Tex.-based lawyer in an opinion letter published in the Houston Chronicle.

The letter is written in response to another opinion piece calling for changes to labor and wage standards for home care companions. “Companionship services”—which often include fellowship, care, and protection for the elderly who can’t care for themselves—that are provided in someone’s home are exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements under the FLSA, Section 13(a)(15), the lawyer writes, and that’s exactly how it should be. 

“Contrary to Tillman’s claim, no one asserts that home companions are ‘not professional enough to qualify for FLSA coverage,'” he says in the letter. “Professionalism has absolutely nothing to do with the exemption. The concept underlying it simply recognizes that while this work is important and the hours are often inherently long, the work itself is generally not taxing. In fact, companions tend to develop close, cordial relationships with their clients. It is also self-evident that many elderly clients will be more comfortable with a smaller pool of companions, with whom they are familiar and at ease.”

If the proposed changes to the exemption rules are adopted, they will “drastically” limit who is eligible for the companionship exemption, says the lawyer, which will no longer be applicable to workers employed by third parties like home care staffing companies.

The unintended consequences of changing exemption rules could end up negatively affecting both industry workers and seniors themselves, he continues. 

“First, if third parties such as staffing companies are eliminated from the process, that will eliminate the screening, training and insurance that they currently provide,” he says. “Second, if overtime pay is required, costs will increase. This will almost certainly result in increased costs for the elderly and infirm and/or their families. Ultimately, some elderly who can currently afford these services will likely have to give them up. As a result, some companions who are currently employed will be out of a job.”

Read the full piece here.

Written by Alyssa Gerace 

Alyssa Gerace

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