Feds delay penalties on home health aides' pay

The Labor Department is moving to delay its enforcement of regulations extending minimum wage and overtime rights to millions of workers in the burgeoning home healthcare industry.

Companies will have at least six months and potentially up to an additional year after the rule takes effect before facing penalties for failing to comply with the regulations, according to a notice to be published Thursday in the Federal Register.

In it, the Labor Department makes clear that the regulations will come into force in January as scheduled.

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“The Department recognizes, however, that the implementation of the Final Rule raises sensitive issues,” the agency said.

The regulations, finalized more than a year ago, remove from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) a “companionship exemption” that has long denied home health aides minimum wage and overtime pay.

Under the changes revealed Tuesday, the Labor Department will refrain from taking any enforcement actions against employers not yet in compliance for six months, beginning Jan. 1.

For the following six months, the agency will “exercise prosecutorial discretion” in deciding whether penalties are in order, with “particular consideration” given to the states and organizations that have made a good faith effort to comply.

The agency cited requests for an extension from state governments and other organizations with a stake in the regulations.

“These entities expressed the need for States to have more time to adjust their publicly funded home care programs in order to comply with the FLSA, and specifically noted that time was needed for budgetary, programmatic, and operational adjustments,” the Labor Department said. 

Some worker advocates assailed the delay, saying the industry has had plenty of time to bring their business operations in line with the rule — a part of President Obama’s fair pay initiative.

“The decision to delay means that 2 million home care workers — largely low-income women, and disproportionately women of color — will have to wait as long as another 12 months to receive even the most basic labor protections, guarantees that most other American workers take for granted,” said Jodi M. Sturgeon, president of the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute.  “Home care workers — the backbone of the nation’s long-term care system — deserve better. “

Critics, who say the rules will raise the cost of healthcare for some Americans, seized on the delay as evidence that the regulations are ill-conceived and should be abandoned.

Among them is Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderGroups warn of rural health 'crisis' under ObamaCare repeal Trump’s Army pick faces tough confirmation fight Trump faces risky ObamaCare choice MORE (R-Tenn.), top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Last week, Alexander led a group of nearly two-dozen Republicans in opposition to the rule.

“The fact that the department plans to ignore its own rule after it goes into effect should be proof enough that it should be scrapped altogether,” he said.