Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Minimum Wage Protections

Home care workers hired by third-party agencies in Georgia are covered by the state’s minimum wage protections only when federal exceptions don’t apply, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday.

In 2013, a group of home care workers sued Southern Home Care Services Inc. and its subsidiary Res-Care Inc., arguing they weren’t being paid minimum wage after factoring in the hours spent traveling to and from patients’ homes. The company’s attorneys, however, contended the employees qualified as domestic employees since they worked inside a home, and therefore were ineligible for Georgia’s minimum wage protections.

The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the workers, claiming that the Georgia Minimum Wage Law indeed applies to employees exempted from Fair Labor Standards Act provisions.

“The Georgia exemption is squarely focused on employees who are exempted from the FLSA’s minimum wage provisions, like the employees in this case, and who thus could benefit from a state minimum wage, albeit one lower than the federal one,” according to the court filing.

The federal exemption has been lifted since the lawsuit was originally filed in 2013, as the Department of Labor extended wage and overtime protections to nearly 2 million home care workers. The agency only recently began enforcement of its rule, meaning the FLSA provisions now apply to the Georgia workers involved in the case, but they didn’t during the time in question.

“Because this case involves a complaint for unpaid minimum wages arising before 2015, however, the changes in the federal regulations do not render the certified questions moot,” the court states.

The ruling in Georgia’s Supreme Court contrasts a decision made in another state’s highest court in a similar case in 2014, according to Bloomberg BNA. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals declared that home care workers weren’t protected by the state’s minimum wage law since the FLSA specifically excluded them at the time.

Given the extension of FLSA provisions to home care workers across the country, though, the states’ rulings don’t necessarily stand moving forward, unless provider groups’ request for U.S. Supreme Court review reverses the DOL rule.

“It appears that, going forward, home health care workers employed by third-party agencies will be covered by the minimum wage requirements of the FLSA and, if that is correct, exempted from the [Georgia Minimum Wage Law],” the court states.

Written by Kourtney Liepelt