Growth of Home Care Justifies Minimum Wage Expansion, States Tell Court

The Department of Labor does in fact have the authority to greatly expand the number of home health workers getting minimum wage and overtime pay, despite legal rulings to the contrary, according to a brief in the ongoing case filed Monday by state officials in New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and New Mexico.

In 2013, the DOL issued a final rule that changed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), under which home health agencies would not longer be able to claim certain wage exemptions for workers. The rule would have boosted wages for a substantial portion of the nation’s home care workforce. It was embraced by worker advocates but protested by some home health provider groups and lawmakers, who said that it imposed unsustainable costs on employers.

The National Association for Home Care and Hospice (NAHC) and other organizations submitted a legal challenge to the new rule. In December, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon struck down the rule, saying that the DOL had exceeded its authority in issuing it, and that Congress has to enact such changes in the FLSA.

The states that filed an amicus brief this week disagree with Leon’s assessment. They believe the Labor Department has the authority to issue the rule to address the “vast expansion” in the number of home care workers employed by agencies since the FLSA was first enacted four decades ago.

“The DOL’s statutory interpretation extends federal wage-andhour protections to workers in what has become a substantial industry that plays an increasingly important role in the economy,” the brief states. “As the DOL found, providing basic protections serves the purposes of the FLSA by promoting both the well-being of home-care workers and the resulting well-being of the people home-care workers serve.”

The filing states also have an interest in the rule because Medicaid reimburses many home health workers, the brief notes. The DOL determined that it would not impose new and burdensome costs on states, and the brief affirms that the states can work within their budgets to implement the rule.

Other groups also recently have submitted briefs supporting the DOL in this case, including a cadre of Democratic lawmakers, Law360 reported yesterday.

The states that lodged the amicus brief are represented on the filing by their respective solicitors or attorneys general, including Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of New York and Attorney General Lisa Madigan of Illinois.

Written by Tim Mullaney