Federal Court Sides With Home Workers

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., last week ruled that home health workers were entitled to the right to receive overtime pay and minimum wage rates.

The decision allows California officials to implement a law passed last year granting overtime pay to In-Home Supportive Services workers. The California law has been on hold pending court review.

However, if the Court of Appeals decision is appealed to the Supreme Court, the state law would remain on hold pending another ruling. If the case is not appealed, the state would implement the law in the fall, likely sometime in October, according to state officials.

The profession of home health worker — including nursing assistants, home health aides, personal care aides and independent providers — is one that needs basic labor protections, said Laphonza Butler, president of SEIU California — the state branch of Service Employees International Union. 

“With our aging population, caregiving is growing both as a part of our economy and as a necessity for families,” Butler said. “A sexist and racist policy dating back to the 1930s has kept a workforce that is primarily women of color unfairly excluded from labor protections extended to all other workers.”

Waiting for a court appeal that may or may not happen is not the right approach, she said.

“SEIU California calls on the Brown administration to treat home care providers fairly by implementing overtime without restriction or delay,” Butler said. “[This] decision must end the decades of unequal treatment forced upon caregivers in California.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals decision upholds a federal Department of Labor rule to allow those protections — and it reverses a January 2015 federal district court decision that invalidated the department’s new definition of companionship services. The Department of Labor definition now stands, and that was cause for celebration from home health workers and advocates.

“I’m happy the law has seen that this is an occupation that deserves the same protections as any other occupation,” said Deane Beebe, media relations director at the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, based in New York.

There are roughly two million home health workers nationwide, more than 600,000 of them in California, according to PHI estimates. Beebe said a large percentage of home health workers are family members, and that number is especially high in California.

“In the state of California, as many 70% of home care workers are family members,” Beebe said.

According to Beebe, women make up 91% of the home health workforce and more than half of the workers are persons of color.

According to Chris Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project based in Washington, D.C., the home care association that brought the lawsuit ruled on by the D.C. court last week has 45 days to petition for a re-hearing or 90 days to appeal to the Supreme Court.

“So they don’t need to make a decision right away,” Owens said. “But we can reasonably expect [implementation] to begin earlier than start of the year, as soon as the start of October.”

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