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Law Professor Finds Home Health Care Workers Have Few Legal Protections

As more and more Americans turn to in-home health care workers to take care of elderly family members, research from a University of Iowa law professor has found nobody is// taking care of the caregivers.

Peggie Smith, an expert in employment law, has found that most home health care workers are protected by few of the federal labor standards that other Americans take for granted.

"For the most part, those government agencies responsible for enforcing labor laws, like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, have turned a blind eye to home health care workers," said Smith. "The problem the government faces is, how do you regulate the employment relationship of someone who works in a private home?"

The issue will become increasingly important in the future, as Baby Boomers will need increased healthcare services as they age and their health declines. The home health care industry is already one of the fastest growing industries in the economy and the number of home health care workers is expected to grow by 70 percent by 2014, she said.

Unfortunately, because home health care is considered low-skill work, Smith said workers are poorly paid, and receive few if any benefits. Depending on their employers, many home health care workers are also exempt from minimum wage, overtime and worker's compensation laws.

As a result, she said most home health care workers are poor women, and they are disproportionately women of color who are single mothers. In addition, many workers are illegal immigrants who work off the books and get paid under the table. The annual turnover rate is about 50 percent.

Smith said that because home health care workers work in private residences, they are often forced to work in unsafe conditions.

"We tend to think of home as a safe place. Yet the reality is that most homes are not designed to accommodate safe care practices," Smith said. "For instance, a t
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