Home Care workers save taxpayers billions of dollars each year. Although the industry has its fair share of problems and fraud, it is much cheaper to care for a patient at home than in a skilled nursing facility. According to the 2015 Senior Living Price Index, the median cost of home care is between $112 and $192 per day. A skilled nursing facility averages $205 per day.
Leaving aside the price differences, most folks in need of skilled care would rather be in familiar surrounding such as their own home instead of a nursing home.
There are an estimated 2 million home care workers in the United States. Some are independent but most work for agencies. According to Policy Matters Ohio, the median wage for a home care worker is just $9.85 per hour. Personal attendants get even less, just $9.67 per hour. Try to imagine of the single parent with two kids trying to live on that pay.
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Protects Home Care Workers
In January of 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor clarified that home care workers are covered by federal minimum wage and overtime protections. This includes certified nursing assistants, home health aides, personal care aides, caregivers, and companions. Unfortunately, workers directly employed by the person they assist are not covered. That means agency workers are covered but not those workers and companions directly employed. (Like all federal programs, there are exceptions to the exceptions. Here that means care paid by intermediaries.)
Home Care Workers and Travel Time
If the home care worker sees just one patient, the commuting time isn’t covered by the FLSA. The government says this is no different than driving to and from work everyday, even though where you work may move if you see different patients on different days.
If the workers see multiple patients, however, than the travel time between work locations is covered. We see many cases in which employers and home care agencies are not following the new rules even though they have been on the books for over a year.
Because of a loophole in the regulations, if there is enough of a break in between patients to allow the worker to run errands or have lunch, the time between job sites is not covered. Some unscrupulous agencies have figured this out and deliberately schedule this way. For example, if Sally has a patient from 8:00 am until 10:00 and a second patient from noon to 1:00 and a third from 4:00 to 5:00, the employer can probably duck paying for a 9 hour day even though the worker’s day is pretty much booked.
Special FLSA Rules for Companionship Workers and Live Ins
The rules regarding pay for hours worked and overtime are quite complex. There are dozens of pages of regulations. This post primarily deals with travel time since it is the question we hear most. If you are working as a companion or a live in, there are very specific rules that apply.
There are also special rules for independent home care workers that are paid for by the state or Medicare. These are different from the worker that contracts directly with a patient and the patient pays. If you own your own business and get paid directly by the patient, you probably aren’t covered by the FLSA. If the state pays you, however, the state is responsible for making sure you are properly compensated.
Because wages are so low, the turnover in the home care industry is extremely high. There are also chronic problems with the quality of care. By only paying folks minimum wage, sometimes less than desirable candidates are attracted to these jobs. We don’t mean to demean the profession, quite the opposite. We hope that wages for home care are raised so that these folks can earn a livable wage.
Home care workers are the folks we entrust with the care of our loved ones. Until wages are increased, our focus as FLSA overtime lawyers is to insure that agencies are following all the rules and paying their workers properly. Despite the already low wages, many home health care agencies continue to game the system and cheat workers. When a home care worker is illegally denied proper wages, the event is called “wage theft.” Unfortunately, wage theft continues to be a big problem in the home care industry.
Think you are a victim of wage theft or are being illegally classified as exempt from overtime? Our FLSA lawyers represent people across the United States. Under the law, workers are entitled to double damages and to have their legal fees paid. Congress wanted to make the law easy for workers. If you think you were improperly denied pay for all hours worked or denied overtime, call us. We can take things from there.
For more information, contact attorney Katherine Holiday at or by phone at (414) 258-2375. The inquiry is completely confidential and without cost. You can also visit our FLSA information and FAQ pages.
MahanyLaw – America’s Wage and Overtime Theft Lawyers