While federal policies have shifted in a pro-business direction since President Donald Trump took office last January, potential labor law changes still could threaten the bottom line for senior living providers.
“It has played out that the new administration is friendlier to business,” Maribeth Bersani, COO of senior living association Argentum, said last week at the SHINE Senior Care Human Resources Executive Summit in Chicago. “But … all those consumer advocates that used to have a voice on [Capitol] Hill haven’t burrowed underground for four years. They’ve gone to their state houses.”
Specifically, actions to increase the minimum wage have “exploded” on the state level, she said. And it’s tricky for businesses to advocate for their interests on this issue, given that there’s an obvious need for workers to make a living wage.
But senior living providers should emphasize that labor is one of their top three cost drivers, so wage increases will drive up the pricetag on care for consumers, Bersani advised.
There likely will be upward wage pressure for salaried employees as well as hourly frontline workers.
Under an Obama-era proposal, employers would have had to pay overtime for any worker making $47,476 or less annually—drastically raising the existing overtime exemption threshold of $23,660.
Senior living was among the industries to protest the change, which has been struck down by the courts. While it appears that the original proposal is no longer viable, the issue is still alive, said Jeanne McGlynn Delgado, vice president of government affairs for another senior living industry group, the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA).
It’s likely that the rule could be reinstated but at a mid-point salary threshold of around $35,000, she said. Some providers already have been making adjustments in anticipation of such a change.
“If you’ve done that, you’re way ahead of the game,” she said.
While the wage issues get a lot of attention, providers would be well advised to look over their employment policies more broadly, because agencies across the board are “paying attention,” she added.
For instance, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently sued a senior living provider for allegedly discriminating against a worker with rheumatoid arthritis.
“It’s always good to go back and review your policies,” Delgado said.
Written by Tim Mullaney