Tales of the Red Tape #27: Don’t Dress Grandma!

Diane Katz /

The bosses at the Department of Labor (DOL) have decided that federal wage and overtime provisions should not apply when grandma’s “companion” assists her with toileting. Moreover, said companion is exempt from the regulations as long as he or she sticks to playing cards, watching television, or engaging in hobbies with a charge.

But be forewarned: The exemption will be surrendered should a companion dare to dress grandma on a recurring basis, prepare food not consumed in his or her presence, or regularly draw a bath. These and other “personal care services” may not exceed 20 percent of the total hours worked in the work week or else wages will be regulated.

Such are the picayune strictures attending the DOL’s proposal to unilaterally rewrite rules that have been in force for the past 35 years, since Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to exempt some types of domestic service—the intent being to keep home care affordable by not forcing families to pay overtime while companion and grandma sleep, for example. But now we come to find out that the bureaucrats in the Administration of Gerald Ford were more permissive than Obama’s minions deem to be appropriate.

So federal employees are spending their days and your tax dollars writing instructions for families who employ in-home help, such as:

A companion may assist an elderly or infirm person in laying down or arising from a nap which may either be preceded by shedding of some clothing or applying some clothing. Adjustments in weather may also require either the addition or subtraction of certain clothing or footwear, or the elderly or infirm person may, on occasion, need assistance in dressing after soiling their clothing by spilling food on their blouse or shirt during a meal, for example. This type of occasional dressing is permissible; however, the Department does not envision this task as being a regular and recurring part of the companion’s duties.

Simply put, the Administration is construing the Fair Labor Standards Act far more broadly than previously interpreted, while also narrowing the exemption for domestic services related to live-in help and elderly companions. In so doing, the government will grow the legions of home-based employees subject to federal labor law, which already include cooks, butlers, valets, maids, governesses, laundresses, handymen, gardeners, and chauffeurs.

Ironically, the DOL officials contend that the rule changes are necessary because of the burgeoning demand for home-based care. Evidently they haven’t figured out that a growth in demand could be expected to raise wages far more efficiently than any government edict.