Homecare providers, caregivers, personal assistants – the millions of workers who provide in-home care in this country go by many names, but they all share a commitment to serving others. Unfortunately, many of these workers share something else in common: low wages. Although they provide a valuable service to many Americans, assisting their clients with daily tasks and enabling them to maintain their independence, many homecare providers do not receive minimum wage or overtime protections guaranteed by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Many of these workers have medical training. Many regularly work more than 40 hours every week. Many are the sole breadwinners for their families. But, because the FLSA includes an exemption for “companions” – an exemption originally intended to cover “elderly sitting” similar to casual babysitting – these employees are not always fairly compensated for their work.
President Obama recently announced his support for a rule proposed by the Department of Labor that would bring these hardworking service providers under the FLSA. After the announcement, some of our department colleagues had the opportunity to speak with homecare providers about their jobs and the importance of minimum wage and overtime. They shared their dedication to their clients, their satisfaction with their work, and the importance of being fairly compensated for their services.
Michelle Wise is an in-home supportive service provider who cares for a 74-year-old client with multiple health concerns. She loves that her work enables this person to remain independent, but acknowledges that getting paid for overtime would be extremely helpful. “I’m a single mother putting a child through college, so being paid a fair wage for work that has been done would mean a lot to our household,” she said. “San Diego County has a very high cost of living and it doesn’t go down for those of us who don’t get overtime and who are not paid for all the hours we work.”
Elva Munoz has been a homecare provider for about 10 years, and relies on her income to support her husband, who is disabled and diabetic. She frequently works more than 40 hours a week, but does not receive overtime compensation. “I do it because the clients, for me, are family,” she says. But receiving overtime “would really help me economically.”
Receiving minimum wage and overtime pay isn’t simply a matter of fair compensation, says homecare provider Elma Phillips, but one of respect. “Overtime money would go a very long way,” she says. “Just to know that you’re getting paid for overtime, and it’s not taken for granted, the hours you work – to know that it’s being recognized.”
Tracy Dudzinski works in Wisconsin, which does provide minimum wage and overtime protection for direct care workers like her, but even with the wage protections provided by the state, she sometimes struggles to make ends meet, she said. She recognizes the challenges her colleagues in other states face and believes they deserve fair compensation too. The services provided by in-home care workers extend far beyond babysitting, she said. “I’m a dietician, I’m a doctor, I’m a nurse, I’m a psychiatrist, a pharmacist, a personal chef. You name it, I do it.”
The department’s proposal would revise the Fair Labor Standards Act regulations to ensure fair pay for these women and nearly 2 million of their colleagues who provide in-home care services, ensuring that in return for their hard work they would receive the protections of minimum wage and overtime pay that nearly every employee in the United States already receives under the FLSA.
The author, Michael Hancock is the Assistant Administrator for Policy for the department’s Wage and Hour Division.