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Newly-passed bill will improve job quality for home care workers

April 15, 2021

All too often, home care agencies misclassify home care workers as independent contractors, denying them protections like workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance and saddling them with extra taxes. But a bill passed this month will help address this illegal practice, improving job quality for Maryland home care workers, reducing worker turnover, and improving quality of care for older adults and people with disabilities. PJC attorney David Rodwin worked with sponsors Senator Delores Kelley and Delegate Lily Qi and a broad coalition to advocate for the legislation, which now heads to the Governor’s desk.

Senate Bill (SB) 384 / House Bill (HB) 652 tasks the Maryland Office of the Attorney General with creating a short, plain-language guidance document to educate home care agencies about their legal responsibility to properly classify employees and requires agency owners to read and sign it every three years. Agencies will also have to indicate every three years whether any of their home care workers are classified as independent contractors. This will help combat agencies’ tendency to rely on often-incorrect word-of-mouth information about their obligations to workers and help ensure workers’ access to critical social safety net protections. Given home care workers’ low wages and high injury rates, access to these protections is critical.

In addition, the bill requires Maryland’s Departments of Labor to report to the Senate Finance Committee and House Health and Government Operations Committee on steps it has taken to educate home care agencies and workers on worker classification laws. The bill also requires Maryland’s Department of Health to report to these committees on turnover of home care workers paid through Medicaid programs and on Medicaid reimbursement rates. 

By tackling misclassification, SB 384 / HB 652 helps address issues of race equity and gender equity in the home care industry. Historically, policymakers often did not consider care work to be “real work” because it was performed by women, especially women of color. Home care workers in Maryland are mostly Black women: about 90% are women and about 70% are Black. Workers’ wages are very low, and usually fall between $12 and $13 an hour. When employers wrongly classify them as independent contractors, it makes it much harder to obtain workers’ compensation—and injury rates are extremely high due to the lifting the job entails. This can cause financial crisis and even homelessness. and pay their employers’ portion of state and federal employment taxes. In the aggregate, misclassification increases instability for many Black families and deepens the racial wealth gap. SB 384 / HB 652 is one step toward reversing these inequities.

By improving job quality, the bill also makes home care jobs more attractive at a time when the need for home care workers is growing. A 2018 study found that Maryland will need nearly 40% more home care workers over the next ten years due to our aging population. But people often do not want to work in the field due to low pay and the lack of workplace protections. The shortage of workers has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many care recipients want to move out of nursing facilities and into the community out of concern for becoming infected, but there are not enough home care workers to care for them. Correcting misclassification will improve job quality and attract more workers.

For all of these reasons, the passage of SB 384 / HB 652 is a huge victory. It is the first time that Maryland has passed any legislation designed to fix the problem of the misclassification of home care workers as independent contractors. The PJC extends its gratitude to the many coalition members who made this win a reality, including bill sponsors Senator Delores Kelley and Delegate Lily Qi; home care agency owners Mark Bayne, Alex Berezin, and Kyle Weadock; AARP Maryland; the Maryland and Washington, DC chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association; Marylanders for Patient Rights; Maryland Centers for Independent Living; National Domestic Workers Alliance; Marylanders Against Poverty; Caroline Center; the Maryland Center on Economic Policy; 1199SEIU; as well as the Office of the Attorney General and the Legislative Black Caucus.