U.S. Supreme Court Denies Home Health Workers’ Wage Claim
The Supreme Court on Monday in a 9-0 decision ruled that federal minimum wage and overtime laws do not apply to home care workers, the AP/Lincoln Journal Star reports (Yost, AP/Lincoln Journal Star, 5/11).
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 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, 4/17).
The Supreme Court overturned the appeals court decision and ruled that Congress must amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to extend federal minimum wage and overtime laws to home care workers (Savage, Los Angeles Times, 6/12).
In the decision, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that DOL had the authority to exempt home care workers from federal minimum wage and overtime laws and that "courts should defer to the department's rule" (AP/Lincoln Journal Star, 6/11).
According to the Los Angeles Times, the "impact of the ruling will vary by state" because many states -- including Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin -- have separate minimum wage and overtime laws that apply to home care workers (Los Angeles Times, 6/12).
Becker said, "This decision is bad public policy. There's a growing demand for home care workers." He added, "This decision will surely only worsen that shortage."
Gerry Hudson -- vice president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents an estimated one million home care workers -- said, "Today's Supreme Court decision is a serious blow to efforts to ensure quality home care in America and underscores how unprepared we are to care for the millions of seniors who will want to live at home instead of institutions" (Johnson, CongressDaily, 6/12).
Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, said that the decision is "another blow to struggling, low-wage women." Under the decision, "profit-making companies can legally choose to pay home care workers deplorably low wages or deny them just compensation for overtime," she said (Los Angeles Times, 6/12).
However, Joe Hafkenschiel, president of the California Association for Health Services at Home, said, "This is a very significant ruling and a very good thing. The exemption from overtime is in the public's interest because it keeps prices for these important home care services reasonably priced" (Morrill, Contra Costa Times, 6/12).