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Court rules against minimum wage, overtime for home care workers

January 15, 2015
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Minimum wage and overtime standards will not apply to home healthcare workers hired by private agencies after a Jan. 14 federal district court judge decision to vacate a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) rule originally set to go into effect two weeks ago. The Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI) says it is “dismayed” by the action, whereas the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) says it “celebrated” it. The DOL is deciding whether to appeal.

As Long-Term Living previously reported, Dec. 22, Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacated provisions of the rule that excluded third-party employers from using the companionship exemption, Dec. 31, he issued a temporary restraining order staying the DOL’s revised definition of companionship services. The second phase of the case, challenging the definition, was heard Jan. 9.

The NAHC, with the International Franchise Association and the Home Care Association of America, were the plaintiffs in the case before the court, Home Care Association of America, et al v. David Weil et al. They questioned the DOL’s authority to change the regulations. In the Jan. 14 decision, Judge Leon ruled that the DOL, indeed, had no authority in the matter.

“PHI firmly believes that minimum wage and overtime protection for home care workers is the right and just policy,” Jodi M. Sturgeon, president of PHI, said in a statement. “We expect Judge Leon’s decision to be appealed and that the rule will ultimately be upheld.” PHI is asking private home care employers and state Medicaid programs to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to direct caregivers.

The Eldercare Workforce Alliance (EWA), consisting of 30 national organizations, reiterated its support for minimum wage and overtime coverage for all home care workers after the Jan. 14 ruling. In a letter to the DOL in June, EWA co-conveners Nancy Lundebjerg, chief operating officer of the American Geriatrics Society, and Michèle Saunders, DMD, MS, MPH, past president of the Gerontological Society of America, said: “The timely application of our nation’s labor protections to home and personal care workers will help ensure that these workers are afforded the respect and fair pay they deserve as well as improve quality of care for consumers and support for family caregivers. We appreciate the efforts of the DOL to give home care workers the same rights as other American workers.”

The NAHC, meanwhile, says that the decision is “a huge victory” for patients and their families, agencies, states, the Medicaid program and caregivers, “who will continue to be protected instead of being forced to work only part time,” Denise Schrader, chairman of the NAHC Board, said in a statement.

The DOL “strongly disagrees” with the judge's Dec. 22 and Jan. 14 orders, according to a statement posted on its website, and is considering its legal options. “The Department issued the Home Care Final Rule to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to almost 2 million home care workers. The Department stands by the Final Rule. We believe the Rule is legally sound and is the right policy—both for those employees, whose demanding work merits these fundamental wage guarantees, and for recipients of services, who deserve a stable and professional workforce allowing them to remain in their homes and communities,” the statement continues.

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