The Obama administration approved new rules Tuesday that extend minimum wage and overtime pay to nearly 2 million home health care workers who help the elderly and disabled with everyday tasks such as bathing, eating or taking medicine.
Home care aides who work as companions have been exempt from federal wage laws since 1974, when they were placed in the same category as baby sitters.
But their ranks have surged with the aging population, and the field is now one of the fastest-growing professions. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said the workers deserve the same legal protections as most other employees.
"Home care workers are no longer treated like teenage baby sitters performing casual employment," Perez said. "They are treated with dignity, and their hard work is indeed rewarded."
Labor unions and worker advocacy groups have been seeking the change for years, arguing that nearly half of caregivers live at or below the poverty level or receive public benefits such as food stamps.
But some health care companies claim new overtime requirements, which cover aides hired by agencies, will make it tougher for families to afford home care for aging parents. Lobbyists for the $84-billion industry argue the new requirements could reduce the quality of care and even lower the take-home pay of caregivers if companies decide not to send workers out for shifts longer than eight hours.
The new rules take effect in January 2015, a move Perez said will give states and industry providers time to adjust to the new requirements. New wage and hour rules typically take effect within 60 days after final approval. The rules cover home health aides, personal care aides and certified nursing assistants who provide care to the elderly and people with injuries, illnesses and disabilities.
President Barack Obama first proposed the rules nearly two years ago as part of an effort to boost the economy and help low-income workers. More than 90 percent of home care aides are women. About 30 percent are black, and 12 percent are Hispanic.
The new rules will continue to exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements those workers who mainly visit the elderly to provide company or engage in hobbies and are employed directly by the person or family receiving services.