Home Health Workers’ Case To Go Before Supreme Court
The Supreme Court on April 16 plans to hear oral arguments in a case that could determine whether federal minimum wage and overtime laws apply to home care workers, the New York Times reports. 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, said, "In its 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.
The "stakes" in the case are "considerable," with the number of home care workers expected to increase to almost two million by 2014, the Times reports.
The Service Employees International Union supports the lawsuit because a victory for Coke could lead to increased wages for hundreds of thousands of home care workers, and AARP plans to file a brief on behalf of Coke to argue that the increased wages would reduce turnover among home care workers and prevent a shortage.
The federal government and the administration of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg oppose the lawsuit because of concerns that a victory for Coke would increase Medicare and Medicaid costs and could limit access to home care workers for the elderly and those with illnesses. In a brief, the Bloomberg administration and the New York State Association of Counties wrote, "In the worst cases, some clients, especially those with high hour needs, might no longer be able to be serviced in their homes and might have to be institutionalized."
MaryAnn Osborne, vice president of Long Island Care, said that a victory for Coke could force the company to close. She said, "This would be horrendous for the entire industry because the reimbursement rate we get won't cover that type of money" (Greenhouse, New York Times, 3/25).