Home Care Workers and the Minimum Wage Controversy

Local seniors obtain peace of mind knowing that they will be able to receive late-in-life care in an ideal setting and that the care will be of top quality. These simple goals should not be out of reach for any elder community member. However each New York elder law attorney at our firm knows that many seniors will be forced to deal with less than adequate care, often in institutional settings where they would rather not live.

Part of the problem is that many local residents will not have visited with a New York elder law professional ahead of time to plan for this time in life. Staying in one’s home while aging usually requires advance planning. However, it is not enough to merely have the aid of a home care worker–one must ensure that the worker is actually providing an appropriate level of care. A recent article from Aging Parents explained that there has been a shortage of quality home care workers. One of the problems, argues the author, is the fact that for a period these workers were exempt from minimum wage laws. When Congress passed minimum rights legislation, all home care workers were lumped into the category of exempt employees who acted as “companions.” This was the case even for workers who engaged in a wide range of physical labor helping seniors bathe, dress, use the facilities, walk, get exercise, and eat properly. Of course, it seems intuitively unfair for these workers to be forced to live in dire poverty at incredibly low wages and no overtime pay.

Fortunately, the legal error was recently corrected. The author suggests that part of the reason the law took so long to change was that many of the individuals who fill these roles have few advocates, often including women and those who are not native English speakers. Also, as a result of the prolonged period of abysmal pay, advocates are worried that there is a shortage of well-trained, capable home health care workers. The need for these workers is expected to skyrocket in the coming decades.

The shortage of quality caregivers makes it important for local residents to conduct proper research when deciding on an appropriate home care provider for their loved one. A New York elder care plan that allows for home care is of little value if that home care worker is inadequate. Therefore, most advocates recommend going through a qualified agency to find these assistants. Most agencies are required to perform multi-state background checks, screen for drug use, and require references. The risk of abuse or theft is always much higher when home care workers are unsupervised and unaccountable.

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