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Do Health Care Home Workers Deserve State Overtime Protection?

Workers vital to older population

Natasha Maye supports herself and her four children on her $8.25-an-hour wage as a home health care worker. That means providing essential care — bathing, dressing, shopping and cooking — for 65-year-old Nancy Thompson of Philadelphia. "I do important work," Maye said. "I need every penny I can get."

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Bayada Nurses Inc., a Pennsylvania firm whose workers provide nursing care, physical therapy and rehabilitation, went to court in 2009 to challenge a state law authorizing overtime payments. A 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that home health aides like Maye were not eligible for overtime conflicted with the state law. Further confusion stemmed from a 1968 state minimum wage law that exempted health care workers employed by an individual household from earning overtime wages.

Maye, 34, recognized the importance of the dispute. "What would our country's senior population do without home health care workers?" she asked recently.

AARP filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the workers, arguing that home health care workers for agencies deserved state overtime protections. In November, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided in favor of the workers and allowed the overtime payments. Bayada is complying with the ruling, said Rick Buck, the firm's chief communications officer, although he says it has disrupted care for some individuals and limited income "for our home health aides who are now restricted to working 40 hours a week or less."

But with those receiving long-term care expected to rise from 14 million to 27 million by 2050, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, the ruling sets an important precedent. "We see a critical need for a professionalized home health workforce," said Bruce Vignery, senior attorney for AARP Foundation Litigation. "These individuals do important work keeping people functioning in their own homes and avoiding nursing homes."

What it means to you: Fair compensation raises the quality of home health care. If you work as a health care aide, see whether you qualify for overtime pay.

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Emily Sachar is a journalist and author based in Brooklyn, N.Y.