Home Care Workers Take Wages Case to Supreme Court
The Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in a case that could determine whether federal minimum wage and overtime laws apply to home care workers, the AP/Winston-Salem Journal reports (AP/Winston-Salem Journal, 4/17).
In the case, Evelyn Coke, a 73-year-old immigrant from Jamaica, filed a lawsuit against New York-based Long Island Care at Home to challenge Department of Labor regulations that exempt home care workers from the laws. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case after the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the regulations, which the court said conflicted with the congressional intent.
Congress in 1974 amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to extend federal minimum wage and overtime laws to household workers but exempted baby sitters and "companions" for the elderly and those with illnesses.
In 1975, DOL proposed regulations to implement the revisions to the law that exempted home care workers.
In a brief, Long Island Care argued that the regulations were consistent with congressional intent because some lawmakers had raised concerns about the need to reduce costs. According to the brief, "The need to restrain costs in the case of third-party employees has only become more acute as agencies provide an increasing amount of needed care."
However, attorney Craig Becker, who represents Coke, argued that the "exemption for baby sitters and companions Congress had in mind the quintessential neighbor-to-neighbor relations," adding, "Increasingly this is not a casual form of work akin to baby-sitting but a full-time regular type of employment."
The case applies only to home health care workers employed by agencies (California Healthline, 3/27).
During oral arguments, the "justices interrupted Mr. Becker repeatedly as he sought to argue that the judiciary should not defer" to DOL "on the ground that a broad exemption clashed with Congress' intent," the New York Times reports.
Becker said, "It could not have been Congress' purpose, when amendments were explicitly designed to extend coverage, to at the same time contract coverage." He added that minimum wage and overtime laws applied to home care workers employed by agencies before the passage of the amendments in 1974.
However, attorney Bartow Farr, who represents Long Island Care at Home, said that DOL "was the agency chosen by Congress to do the work of defining and delimiting the exception" (Greenhouse, New York Times, 4/17).
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the original regulations proposed by DOL did not exempt home care workers, but Justice Antonin Scalia during arguments said that the department was only "floating an idea" (AP/Winston-Salem Journal, 4/17).
Justice Stephen Breyer raised concerns that a decision in favor of Coke could increase costs for individuals who hire home health care workers. He said, "If you win this case, it seems to me suddenly there will be millions of people who will be unable to do it and hence, millions of sick people will move to institutions" (New York Times, 4/17).