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Great news for home health aides in wage and hour law this week

If you’ve ever worked as a home health aide or nursing assistant, you’re probably aware that these so-called “companionship services,” however vitally important, have not been subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal law that guarantees the minimum wage and overtime pay. Even when the U.S. Department of Labor revised the definition of companionship services in 2011, home healthcare workers were specifically excluded from FLSA coverage.

On Tuesday, however, the Labor Department announced that it has revised the minimum wage and overtime rules again and, as of 2015, home health aides, personal care aides and certified nursing assistants will be entitled to the full protections of the FLSA.

“Today we are taking an important step toward guaranteeing that these professionals receive the wage protections they deserve while protecting the right of individuals to live at home,” said newly-sworn-in Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.

The extension of the FLSA to the nearly 2 million home health workers in the U.S. was not without its critics. Congressional Republicans opposed it, and even some patient care advocates worried it might result in fewer hours for direct care workers, according to Reuters. That reduction in hours, they argued, could mean reductions in service to the elderly and disabled who rely on home care assistance in order to live independently.

The fact is, however, that the nationwide median pay rate of direct care workers is $9.70 an hour. While that only works out to around $20,000 a year, it’s still above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Apparently, the added expense to home health companies will largely arise if they are required to pay workers time-and-a-half when they work more than 40 hours a week.

The AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of labor unions, praised the extension of wage and hour protections to the home healthcare industry. “Congress intended that these hard-working individuals, whose labor is often physically and emotionally demanding, have the protection of our nation's most basic labor standards,” its president said in a statement.

That praise is well-deserved. Even with overtime, healthcare in the home is likely to remain much less expensive than the same care provided in institutional settings. As the average age of the American population continues to rise, the availability of home health workers will be crucial, so they must be fairly compensated.

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