Regulatory movements, other initiatives help raise awareness
by Greg Shulas
November 6, 2018

Home health care, an industry empowered by female workers, is facing scrutiny over the gender pay gap issues that have historically impacted male-dominated professionals like law and finance. This newfound attention to industry compensation issues comes in the wake of the #MeTooMovement and regulatory efforts to hold employers accountable for unfair pay practices.

In this environment, home health care providers can be faulted for any processes that allegedly exasperate pay disparities between female and male professionals. A recent case in point concerns Interim HealthCare of Wyoming, which was sued last month by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for allegedly “paying female nurses lower wages than a significantly less experienced male counterpart because of sex.”

In a lawsuit filed on Oct. 1 in federal court, the EEOC made it clear that “compensation discrimination” was a major priority for the federal agency’s legal team, especially in states with deep histories of pay inequity. "Enforcement of [pay] laws and closing the pay gap are particularly important in a state like Wyoming, where women make only 77 cents on the dollar compared to men, and which is ranked 39th in the country in pay equity,” said EEOC Phoenix District Office Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill in a statement announcing the allegations.

The EEOC’s case follows the launch of a public campaign from the Narrow the Gap initiative, which claims “women personal care aides make 92 cents to the dollar” compared to what “men earn doing the same job.”

As a result, such female aides make $41 less per weekly pay check than male peers, resulting in a $2,132 gap in compensation per year, the campaign says, citing 2017 data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This contrasts with professionals in fields such as law and finance, where working women make 62 cents and 71 cents on the dollar, respectively, compared to men.

Meanwhile, at a broader health care industry level, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey found that men were compensated at a higher rate than women in the nursing profession. According to the U.S. Census survey, female registered nurses receive median annual pay of $64,413, below the $70,952 in median annual pay male nurses receive.

But regardless of what data point has the most merit, the perception of pay gaps among home health care workers is very real to those who feel aggrieved, as the EEOC lawsuit against Interim HealthCare points out. The plaintiff writes in legal documents about how a male home care registered nurse with less experience—and essentially the same level of education—received higher compensation level than a female home care RN, at $29 per hour versus $28 per hour. And when the female nurse pointed out this alleged gender discrimination, working conditions became intolerable, the lawsuit states.

The plaintiff “recalls that [the supervisor’s] explanation for the wage differential was words to the effect of ‘that's just the way it is’ and that the male had more experience, which was not true,” the lawsuit claims.

In response to the allegations, an Interim spokeswoman could not comment, citing a policy of not publicly speaking about “pending litigation on behalf of our franchises.” However, the Interim spokeswoman did maintain that the health system was committed to treating all employees fair, noting the firm’s corporate structure involves franchising particular agencies to business partners.

“As a company that is committed to equal opportunity, integrity, and strong business ethics, Interim HealthCare has always remained vigilant in complying with its obligations of all employment laws… Each Interim HealthCare franchise is independently owned and operated and is directly responsible for the management of its workforce and its operations,” the spokeswoman noted.

Helping draw more attention to gender pay gap issues are regulatory movements in influential countries such as the U.K. as well as liberal U.S. municipalities such as New York City. In the case of NYC, Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced a law last November that makes it illegal for employers to ask a job candidate’s compensation history. This is being done to reduce the influence of past discriminatory pay practices against female professionals, as well as other covered parties such as minorities, as they apply for new job roles.