Willow Grove’s TriMED Health will pay $3.8 million in back wages for avoiding overtime

Home nurses employed by a Willow Grove-based company are getting their wages back after the US Department of Labor found they were unlawfully denied wages for overtime.

TriMED HealthCare was ordered to pay $3.86 million in back payments and damages to 433 affected employees and a $180,141 civil penalty.

It’s the latest in a series of Labor Department investigations into homecare companies that underpaid their workers.

TriMED agreed to a settlement just before a jury trial was due to begin. The $3.86 million they have to pay is the full amount the government wanted to seek in court, said Brian Krier, the Labor Department’s trial attorney.

If an hourly worker works more than 40 hours a week, employers must pay them an overtime rate of at least one and a half times their usual wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The regular rate at TriMED ranged from $7.25 to $14 an hour, according to court records.

TriMED had avoided paying overtime by adjusting workers’ regular wages to the number of hours worked. If an employee worked more than 40 hours, the company would lower that person’s hourly rate for that week only, meaning wages for an hour and a half overtime would also drop, according to the Labor Department. As a result, the company would ultimately pay that worker the same amount per hour that he would earn during a 40-hour week.

“It seems to be a fairly common practice in the home care industry,” Krier said.

TriMED co-owner Beverly Jordan of Newtown admitted to the practice in a solemn testimony, he added, and it was reflected in the company’s payroll. In very few cases, the adjustment made to avoid being paid an hour and a half resulted in hourly wages falling below the $7.25 state minimum wage, Krier said.

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In some cases, TriMED simply paid employees the normal hourly rate for all hours worked, even if some were overtime, the court filings say. TriMED also failed to pay overtime to administrative workers, failed to pay caregivers for travel time and failed to keep necessary records, the department said.

These issues are often found in wage-related research conducted by home health care companies, Krier said. Another common violation by healthcare companies is misclassifying their employees to avoid being paid overtime, he said, but that’s not an issue in the TriMED case.

The Department of Labor has investigated numerous violations by home health care companies accused of failing to pay overtime. From January 2021 to March 2022, the Philadelphia bureau completed 38 investigations of home health care firms in southeastern Pennsylvania and found that 35 had violated federal labor laws, primarily by failing to pay minimum wage or overtime, officials said.

A big part of the problem is that in Pennsylvania and nearby New Jersey, Medicaid does not pay home health care facilities an additional cost for the overtime a patient needs. It’s common for a home caregiver to regularly exceed that 40-hour number because many patients prefer to have just one healthcare provider — often a family member who has joined an agency to provide paid care for their relative. As demand for home health care has increased, it doesn’t help that the labor supply hasn’t kept pace, in part due to low wages.

TriMED told its workers it would not pay overtime or travel time, according to court filings, and confirmed to workers their rates would be reduced on weeks when they worked overtime.

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TriMED’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the settlement.

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