UPDATE: Wage Rules Restored For Home Care, Supreme Court Review Possible

Nearly 2 million home care workers are in fact eligible for minimum wage and overtime protections if the Department of Labor says so, a federal appeals court ruled Friday. Leaders of a home care industry association said they might seek Supreme Court review of the decision.

In 2013, the Department of Labor extended these wage and overtime protections to home care workers, stating that home care agencies no longer could claim that the workers were exempt from Fair Labor Standards Act provisions.

The DOL’s move was challenged by trade organizations the Home Care Association of America and the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC). The associations have argued that the new protections could actually harm workers, if agencies now reduce hours to avoid paying overtime, and that access to care also could be compromised as costs go up.

A federal judge subsequently ruled that the DOL did not have authority to make the changes, but the ruling on Friday from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit came to a different conclusion.

“The Department’s decision to extend the FLSA’s protections to those employees is grounded in a reasonable interpretation of the statute and is neither arbitrary nor capricious,” Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote on behalf of the three-member panel.

The Home Care Association of America did not respond to requests for comment as of press time. NAHC is exploring different ways to respond.

“We are reviewing the decision and keeping all options open, including possibly seeking Supreme Court review,” said William A. Dombi, vice president for law at NAHC, in a statement sent to HHCN.

Worker advocates were quick to cheer the ruling.

“We are thrilled that this historic ruling will remedy an injustice millions of dedicated, hardworking caregivers have had to tolerate for far too long,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, in a prepared statement. “It will ensure that home care workers finally enjoy the same basic workplace protections enjoyed by most other workers in our nation.”

And, contrary to the warnings of provider groups, some worker advocates say that the payment rules actually will benefit the industry as a whole.

“Paying workers less than the minimum wage for their work hours, and not paying an overtime premium after 40 hours a week, benefits no one,” said Sarah Leberstein, staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project, in a news release. “Low pay leads to burnout and high turnover and compromises care, which in turn create economic strains on the home care system.”

Jodi Sturgeon, president of the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, touted the court’s decision, saying the rules are a response to significant changes in the home care industry.

“Following today’s decision, we hope that the home care industry will cease its efforts to block the Home Care Rule, and instead work with all stakeholders to ensure swift implementation of the rule without disruption of services to consumers,” Sturgeon said in a prepared statement.

Written by Kourtney Liepelt & Tim Mullaney