Home Care Wage Rule Vacated by Federal Judge

January 14, 2015

A federal district court judge has vacated the Department of Labor (DOL) rule change that would have extended minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers.

In his decision (pdf), Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia wrote that "Congress's intent in 1974 to exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements domestic workers providing services, including care to the elderly and disabled, is still as clear today as it was forty years ago."

Under the "companionship exemption," home care workers were excluded from basic federal labor protections provided under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In 2013, after an unusually long public-comment period, the DOL announced that it would finally extend these minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers.

Media Responds to Home Care Decision

Numerous media outlets have reported on the vacated FLSA home care rule:

For more recent media coverage, visit the PHI Media Center.

But in December 2014, Leon invalidated a portion of the rule change, then issued a temporary stay on implementation.

His January 14 ruling argued that, because the rule change took place without Congressional input, it must be declared invalid.

"While the Department of Labor's concern about the wages of home care providers is understandable, Congress is the appropriate forum in which to debate and weigh the competing financial interests in this very complex issue affecting so many families," he wrote.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the DOL has the authority to issue a rule change extending minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers.

Advocates for home care workers have long argued that the companionship exemption treats home care workers as if they were teenage babysitters rather than professional caregivers. 

Leon’s decision affirmed that view. "Babysitters -- good ones, at least -- do not simply sit and stare at their charges, ready to call for assistance if something should go wrong," Leon wrote. Home care workers essentially perform the same tasks as babysitters, he argued, and should be paid accordingly.

-- by Matthew Ozga

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