A year ago, the U.S. Department of Labor said it was stepping up efforts to ensure that people paid to care for individuals with disabilities were not being taken advantage of. What the agency found was problematic.

Federal officials said they’ve conducted over 1,600 investigations since announcing the crackdown last fall focusing on residential care, nursing facilities, home health services and other employers in the caregiving industry. They found violations in 80% of cases.

Most of the issues centered on situations where employers failed to pay overtime or the federal minimum wage as well as instances where employees were misclassified as independent contractors, the Labor Department said.

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To date, officials indicated that they’ve recovered $28.6 million in back wages and damages for almost 25,000 workers. In addition, they’ve assessed employers nearly $1.3 million in penalties.

The violations inordinately affected women of color who make up much of the nation’s caregiving workforce, the Labor Department said.

“In the U.S., women make up more than 80% of the people employed as nursing assistants, home and personal care workers and a disproportionate number are women of color, notably Black women. These dedicated professionals work long hours to provide compassionate care to people in need,” said Jessica Looman, principal deputy administrator at the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. “Yet too many find themselves working for employers who deprive them of their full wages and benefits they’ve earned for their hard work. We are determined to make sure these workers’ rights are respected and protected.”

In addition to increased enforcement, the Labor Department initiative to protect the wages and rights of professional caregivers also includes enhanced efforts to educate workers about the rules and how to file a complaint if they are not being paid appropriately.

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