A U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., recently struck down a federal regulation that would mandate that home health aides are paid the minimum wage and paid overtime under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Though the decision will likely be appealed, this decision is still a bad decision for the men and women who do the hardest jobs in health care – home health aides and certified nursing assistants.
Why home health aides aren’t covered by federal wage laws
Home health aides were exempted from the FLSA 40 years ago in order to make caring for the elderly less expensive. However, companion care has become a big and very profitable business. An index of publically traded home-health-care stocks has consistently outperformed the stock market as a whole for the last 13 years. This profitably is due in part to the minimum wage and overtime exemptions for home health aides.
How the home health exception affects other jobs in the medical field
The federal government estimates that nearly 1 million are employed as home health aides, while private sources estimate that number as 2 million. Home health is also a fast-growing field of employment. Home health aides essentially have the same job duties as certified nursing assistants (CNAs). CNAs are generally covered by minimum wage and overtime laws, but workers with the same skills and same duties are exempt from those laws if they are working as home health aides. CNA wages are pushed down by home health aide wages, which are exempt from federal wage laws.
Why pay is about more than wages
A recent study of CNAs showed that nearly 60 percent of CNAs report injuries during a 12-month period. The injury rate is similar for home health aides. The study also showed that higher-paid CNAs were injured less frequently than lower-paid CNAs. The study indicated that organizational factors really drove injury rates among CNAs. In other words, in settings where CNAs are truly valued, paid fairly and trained, the injury rates are lower. But if CNAs are treated as low-wage, high-turnover cogs in a machine, then injury rates are higher. Low pay for CNAs and home health aides isn’t just an issue for employees. Low pay for home health aides and CNAs has been linked to poor patient care.
While the Obama administration has been criticized for being too aggressive in enforcing the FLSA, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that they will delay enforcement of the home health aide regulation until July 2015. This assumes courts will let the Department of Labor actually enforce the regulation. Anyone concerned about this issue should contact their members of Congress to support legislation that ends the home health aide exception. People should also contact their state legislators to support legislation that would ensure that home health aides are covered by state wage and hour laws.