By Victoria Merlino
Investigations into home care agencies across Queens and elsewhere in New York City have uncovered widespread violations surrounding wages, sick leave and a lack of transparency around wage parity.
The enforcement initiative, led by the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs involves 42 home care agencies and 50,000 affected home care workers of the city’s estimated 200,000 home care workers.
There are at least 817 home health care providers operating in Queens, according to a state department of health database.
“NYC’s more than 200,000 home nurses, physical therapists, social service providers and hospice workers – the vast majority of whom are women – keep our city running,” Alicia Glen, Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, homecare workers are uniquely vulnerable to violations against labor protections like Paid Safe and Sick Leave. DCA’s enforcement initiative has not only produced real results for more than 300 homecare workers but it underscores the city’s ongoing commitment to establishing and enforcing fair, safe workplaces for all New Yorkers.”
Home health care is one of the fastest growing industries in the city. The health sector added nearly 114,000 jobs between 2009 and 2017, according to state Department of Labor data. About 71 percent of those jobs were in the home health care services.
The investigation began in July 2017 and honed in on the Paid Safe and Sick Leave law after it was found that home care aides comprised the third largest source of noncompliance complaints in the city.
The investigation included interviews with more than 500 workers as well as a review of documents provided by workers and employees.
The DCA uncovered pervasive violations regarding workers knowing their rights. For example, many workers reported that they had never seen information about their employer’s sick leave policy, which is a violation of the law.
Workers were frequently denied sick leave requests, encountered workplace restrictions regarding the use of sick leave and faced retaliation when they tried to use sick leave.
The sick leave law mandates that employers guarantee paid leave if they have five or more employees that work more than 80 hours in a calendar year, and employers with fewer than five employees must provide unpaid leave.
“The enforcement of a law is vital to ensuring its benefit to the public is realized,” said Queens Council Member I. Daneek Miller, chair of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor. “Our home health aides bear a unique responsibility in caring for the well-being of our city’s most vulnerable, and are particularly deserving of the security this law provides.”
The state also uncovered minimum wage and overtime violations among home healthcare providers. Shifts lasting 24 hours are common in the home care industry and many workers reported only being paid for 13 hours even if they did not sleep during their shift. Workers were also left in the dark about their benefits.
The investigation has resulted in 21 settled court cases for workers, 11 additional cases filed and $43,000 in restitution for aides.
“Home health workers are usually women of color and immigrants, which can make it that much harder for them to gain the respect they deserve,” said Rachel Khan a member of the organization Hand in Hand – The Domestic Employers Network. “If we want to improve the quality of life and care for all New Yorkers, we need to start by doing the vital work of educating families like mine so that when our homes become workplaces, we know how to be good employers.”