A federal judge has delayed until Jan. 15 the effective date of part of a new Labor Department rule that could mean higher wages for many home healthcare workers.
Home healthcare companions who provided “fellowship, care and protection” to the elderly or disabled have been exempt from minimum wage and overtime pay protection. A new Labor Department rule, however, significantly narrows the definition of companions to those who spend no more than 20% of their time providing actual care. The full rule was set to take effect Jan. 1.
Some, such as the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, which represents home health aides and other healthcare workers, have predicted the rule will mean home healthcare companies will only rarely be able to claim exemptions from wage protections for workers
Industry groups, in their motion to temporarily delay implementation of the new definition, also said it would mean no pay exemptions for “an overwhelming percentage of workers in the home-care industry.”
The groups, including the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, the Home Care Association of America and the International Franchise Association, say the new definition will harm home healthcare companies and those they serve.
They argued in their motion for a temporary stay of the rule that letting it go into effect Jan. 1 would lead to “significant disruption of the home-care industry and irreparable harm to employers, consumers, state government and employees."
The associations argued that "Congress enacted the companionship exemption in order (to) keep home-care costs as affordable as possible for the elderly and infirm and their families and to avoid institutionalization.”
Industry groups are seeking further delay of the rule to give the court time to consider and rule on the legality of the definition. The judge is scheduled to hear arguments Friday on the merits of a preliminary injunction and has indicated he will rule on the injunction soon afterward, according to the Home Care Association of America.
“This decision is yet another step in our quest for a decisive victory for seniors and individuals with disabilities who depend on these vital home care services provided by our member companies,” said Home Care Association of American Executive Director Phil Bongiorno, Home Care Association of American executive director, in a statement.
The Labor Department, meanwhile, issued a statement saying it opposes the idea of delaying the rule any further.
“As we previously stated after the Dec. 22nd ruling, the Final Rule's extension of minimum wage and overtime protections to most home-care workers is the right policy—both for those employees, whose demanding work merits these fundamental wage guarantees, and for recipients of services who deserve a stable and professional workforce allowing them to remain in their homes and communities,” according to the department's statement.
The three associations in June sued the government over the rule, saying it would destabilize the industry and mean a dearth of quality, affordable care for seniors. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled in December against a different part of the rule that would have required companionship workers employed by third parties, such as home healthcare companies, to no longer be exempt from minimum wage and overtime laws. But that ruling did not address the definition change.
Though the new rule was set to take effect Jan. 1, the Labor Department has said it wouldn't enforce it until June 30, 2015, and for six months after that would exercise discretion in deciding when to bring enforcement actions. Still, the industry groups argued in court documents that leaving the effective date as Jan. 1 would expose employers to “private litigation, confusion, and unrecoverable costs.”
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