Home Care Overtime Lawsuit Could Have National Implications

A federal court ruling on unpaid home care overtime in Los Angeles County could have broader implications for the home-based care industry nationwide, according to the National Law Review.

The Ninth Circuit Court recently ruled that home care workers paid by state and county programs can sue LA County for unpaid overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Previously, those workers were exempt from state and federal overtime laws.

In 2015, a new Department of Labor (DOL) regulation changed that — but not without a fight.

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Before the new rule was set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, a federal court in Washington, D.C., struck it down. That ruling was overturned in October 2015. As a result, the DOL said it would not enforce the new regulations until Nov. 12, 2015 — despite the initial effective date of Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, California didn’t comply with the new rules until Feb. 1, 2016, which prompted a home care worker in LA County employed by the state’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program there to sue the county, the National Law Review explained. The suit sought to recover 13 months of unpaid overtime, from Jan. 1, 2015 to Feb. 1, 2016.

The county moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that it was functioning as an arm of the state and had immunity under the 11th amendment.

A district court then ruled that LA County had no 11th amendment immunity. On top of that, the court said home care workers couldn’t recover wages from before Nov. 12, 2015, when enforcement for the new regulations began.

As a result, appeals from both parties propelled the case to the Ninth Circuit Court.

There, a judge maintained that LA County had no 11th amendment immunity — and that caregivers could, in fact, sue to recover overtime wages starting Jan. 1, 2015.

That could mean a big financial hit for LA County, which employs 170,000 home care workers under the IHSS program, lawyer Adriana Galindo wrote in the National Law Review. Galinda is an associate at legal firm Epstein Becker Green.

“But more than that, the implications of this ruling may transcend this case and this county,” she said. “This ruling potentially opens the door to more collective actions by home care workers employed under different government programs, and it may trigger more collective actions against other California counties.”

On the other hand, William A. Dombi, president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC), isn’t so sure the ruling will have a national impact.

“We strongly believe that it is patently unfair to hold Los Angeles County or any other home care employer liable for overtime wages during a period where the requirement had been vacated by a federal court,” Dombi said in a statement. “However, we see limited impact for other home care employers at this time due to the two-year limit on filing FLSA actions.”

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