Protection for home health workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) may not come as soon as planned, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Tuesday. In a post on the Department of Labor's blog Work in Progress, the principal deputy administrator for the Wage and Hour Division Laura Fortman revealed that no disciplinary action will be taken against employers who fail to comply with FLSA obligations for the six months after the original enforcement date. The department will use "discretion" in the six months following in determining possible action.
It was announced in September 2013 that these workers in the fastest growing industry in the United States would finally be protected under the Act's minimum wage and overtime requirements after being deemed exempt in 1974, labeled by the Dept. of Labor as "companionship services" rather than domestic workers. On the date of the announcement, the Department of Labor announced an effective date of January 1, 2015, to allow states time to perform "any necessary program adjustments" before implementation.
With this announcement, however, employers have no obligation to provide minimum wage and overtime increases until at least July 2015.
A 2012 survey by the National Domestic Workers Alliance found almost one in four of all workers surveyed were paid below state minimum wage requirements. Only one in three live-in workers surveyed made minimum wage, with the median hourly rate for these workers at a low $6.15.
This exemption from minimum wage and overtime protections under the FLSA only begins to define the poor economic stance of workers in the industry. The NDWA survey found less than one in fifty workers surveyed received any form of retirement or pension benefits, with nearly two-thirds of workers living without health insurance.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of home health aids will grow 48% between 2012 and 2022, "much faster" than the average projected occupational growth.
While states have had over a year to prepare since the announcement, the Department of Labor cites requests for extension by several states as the reason for the new policy change. "When we announced the final rule, we provided a 15-month implementation period before its effective date," the announcement from the Dept. read Tuesday. "We did so out of recognition that home care services financing is complex, and that making adjustments to operations, programs and budgets in order to comply with the rule would take time. Some states, tell us that they're ready to implement the rule. Others, because of budget and legislative processes, have requested an extension."
For an industry that has been fighting for equal rights under federal labor & employment law for forty years, true justice will have to wait at least another year. As the Department of Labor claimed in their original announcement in September 2013, "This is real work that needs to be recognized as such." The year 2015 will prove if the Department can back up their own claim.