Officials at the U.S. Department of Labor recognize that the industry of care-giving has changed. When the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was implemented in 1975, the need for care-givers stemmed mostly from families who hired neighbors and friends to assist those unable to care for themselves. Thus, an exemption was added to the FLSA that allowed employers to pay caregivers less than time-and-a-half for overtime work, which is the standard for most employees in other industries.
Times have changed due to the aging population. The industry of providing for the elderly is utilizing more professional care-givers than ever before, both for in-home agencies and institutions. Nowadays, care-giving workers are often professionals who are required to perform more intense services, and for more than one patient at a time.
On Dec. 27, the Dept. of Labor published a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” to a.) “more clearly define the tasks that may be performed by an exempt companion” and b.) “to limit the companionship exemption to companions employed only by the family or household using the services. The Department of Labor added that, if the exemption is eliminated, third-party employers, such as institutions that provide care, could not claim the exemption.
On March 20, a hearing took place in Washington, D.C., had a tone of alarm. Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan headed the hearing, and a congressman from Minnesota, John Kline, chairing. They warned that the cost to families who had loved ones who required daily care would skyrocket if the exemption is eliminated. Even the title of the hearing was aimed against the Dept. of Labor’s proposal, and, inadvertently, against fair pay for care-givers. The hearing was called “Ensuring Regulations Protect Access to Affordable and Quality Companion Care.”
A press release following the hearing regarding the changes’ impact read as follows: “The (Labor Department)’s own estimates project the costs of companion care would increase anywhere from $420 million to $2.3 billion over the first 10 years, and there are serious concerns the department has drastically understated the true cost of its proposal.”
When contacted, Kline responded with this email, “The committee’s hearing and oversight work confirm the serious consequences of these regulatory changes for seniors and individuals with disabilities. … This is a flawed regulatory scheme that runs contrary to the will of Congress and disregards the needs of those who rely on companion care, and it must be rejected.”
On the other side of the issue, a March 9, Oxford Sun story reporting that Veronica Smith, a houseparent, sued her employer, Rainbow Omega, because she was not paid for attending staff meetings nor for the hours she had worked tending to residents during the nights. The lawsuit, which is pending, underscores the pertinence of these current issues in the industry.
Stentson Carpenter, CEO of Rainbow Omega, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that he was unaware of the Labor Department’s proposed changes and the hearing, but he said he surrounds himself with attorneys who would know of such upcoming changes.
Carpenter, who founded Rainbow Omega, in part, because he has an offspring who is developmentally delayed, said he could not comment on the lawsuit but that he valued the work performed by the house parents at Rainbow Omega.
“We pay our employees well,” he said, “and the last raise that (we gave), the regular staff got three percent increase and house managers got eight percent.”
Ted Embry is area director of an Oxford location of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries. On Tuesday, he said he stays abreast of discussions regarding the possible changes in the care-giving industry.
“If (the exemption goes away),” said Embry, “it would profoundly affect places such as Rainbow Omega. In many (instances), you would have facilities that would have to close.”
Those wishing to study these issues more closely may visit www.dol.gov and type the word “companionship” in the search bar. For information about the hearings, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings. Go to March 20, 2012.
Call Sherry at 256-235-3533 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.