DOL Significantly Narrows Yet Another FLSA Exemption

Contributed by Suzanne Newcomb

In regulations set to take effect January 1, 2015, the Department of Labor eliminated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) exemption for home care providers employed through third-party agencies and significantly narrowed the exemption for those employed by households directly.  Under current law, employees who provide in-home care for those who cannot care for themselves due to age, illness or disability are largely exempt from the FLSA’s overtime and minimum wage provisions.  (Though Illinois, Wisconsin, California and handful of other states have state laws in place requiring minimum wage and overtime pay for many of these workers.  Indiana and Missouri and a majority of other states do not.)

In its Final Rule issued September 17, 2013, the DOL largely gutted the so called “companionship exemption” by significantly narrowing its definition of “companionship services.”   Under the new rule, home health care companies, staffing agencies and other employers of in-home care staff will be prohibited from claiming the exemption regardless of the duties their employees actually perform.  Households who hire an employee directly in what the DOL describes as an “elder sitter” role to provide “companionship, fellowship, or protection” may still claim the exemption but only in certain circumstances.  They too will lose the exemption if the employee provides medical services, performs services for others within the infirmed individual’s household or devotes more than 20% of work time to housekeeping, transportation or assisting the infirmed individual with daily living skills (such as eating, bathing, grooming) as opposed to providing companionship and fellowship to and/or oversight of the individual.  

What does this mean for your business?  Those in the home care industry should examine employee pay classifications, compensation structures and staffing levels.  The new rule takes effect in just over a year.  Heavily impacted employers will need that time to craft proper procedures and implement tools to accurately track and record employees’ time and duties; along with the minimum wage and overtime requirements come FLSA mandated record keeping obligations.  Some employers may choose to increase staffing levels or restructure shifts to avoid significant overtime expenditures.  Read the full text of the rule at www.dol.gov/whd/homecare/final_rule.pdf.  Further information and guidance is available at www.dol.gov/whd/homecare.

For employers outside the home care industry, this is but the latest in a trend toward narrowed exemptions to the FLSA.  All employers should review their exempt / non-exempt classifications, time keeping tools and record keeping procedures regularly to ensure they are compliant with current law and that each employee is properly classified in light to the work actually performed.  If challenged, it is the employer’s burden to prove a claimed exemption is appropriate.  Clear and accurate records are the key component in meeting this burden.  Misclassifying an employee as exempt (or failing to properly document hours worked) can be a costly mistake and make the employer on the hook for unpaid wages, overtime, taxes and penalties.