In-home caregivers provide a vital service by assisting their clients with day-to-day tasks.
Sometimes that service translates into acts of heroism, as Gilda Brown discovered one day when her client summoned her to ask if she smelled something burning. When Brown went to investigate, she found the client’s furnace in flames. The client was physically incapable of exiting the house without assistance, so Brown told her to call the fire department while she went to the basement to try to smother the flames.
“‘Don’t leave me here and let me die,’ that’s all she could keep saying,” Brown recalled on Dec. 15, a few hours after President Obama announced a proposed rule that would ensure fair pay for caregivers like her. “And I said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I’m not – even if I have to put you on my back.’”
Grabbing the rags she used to clean the house, Brown beat back the flames before the fire department arrived.
Such quick-thinking, resourcefulness and dedication are typical characteristics of homecare workers, many of whom describe their work as a calling – speaking of their clients as “family,” and talking about the satisfaction they get from serving others. Many of the workers put in long hours, working overtime even though they don’t get paid for it.
As longtime caregiver Elma Phillips says, “If we were to categorize why we are doing this job, it wouldn’t be for the money.”
Although money may not be their primary objective, many of the workers have expressed frustration at the fact that their work is currently exempt from federal laws that require minimum wage and overtime protections. The work they do is important and deserves fair compensation. Yet, due to an exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act for “companions” – an exemption that was originally intended to cover “elder sitting” services similar to casual babysitting – many in-home caregivers do not receive minimum wage and overtime pay.
Although some states do offer some wage protections for the industry, minimum wage and overtime are not guaranteed for these workers as they are for almost every other employee in the United States.
The vast majority of the 1.8 million people employed as in-home care workers are professional caregivers who provide a variety of services. They feed and bathe their clients. They clean their houses, take them shopping, provide transportation, monitor their health and go to the doctor’s office with them.
“You have to be the confidant, you have to be the psychiatrist, the therapist, everything. Some of them, you’re the only person that they see,” says Phillips. “We are the lifeline for them.”
Protecting these workers is a priority for the department, which is why we’ve proposed a rule to provide them with the minimum wage and overtime protections most American workers already receive under the Fair Labor Standards Act. We believe this proposal will attract more qualified professionals to this important profession, improve the quality of care available, and offer greater financial support to the men and women who have made personal service a professional duty.
In order to provide additional time to comment on the proposal, the department has extended the comment period to Monday, March 12. Interested parties are invited to submit comments on or before March 12 at http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=WHD-2011-0003-0001.
Editor’s Note: The author, Mary Ziegler is the Director of Regulations, Legislations and Interpretation for the department’s Wage and Hour Division.