Tuesday, June 12, 2007

SCOTUS: Home health workers not entitled to overtime pay

The Supreme Court has held that home healthcare workers are not entitled to overtime pay (Long Island Care at Home, Ltd. v. Coke).

Here's AHLA's excellent media review of the Court's decision:
  • In a unanimous decision in Long Island Care at Home, Ltd. v. Coke (pdf), the Supreme Court found that home healthcare workers employed by a private company or employer are not covered by laws on overtime pay or the minimum wage because they are "companion workers." ABC World News (6/11, story 9, 0:20, Gibson) noted that the decision "has implications for the nation's one million home healthcare workers and the people for whom they care."

  • The Washington Post (6/12, D2, Barnes) reports that yesterday the Supreme Court ruled "that workers in the fast-growing home-care industry are not entitled to overtime pay." The court's decision upheld "a 1975 Labor Department regulation," which exempts "workers paid by third parties from minimum-wage and maximum-hour rules." The high court said the regulation "was a valid exercise of the power given to the agency by Congress."

  • The Chicago Tribune (6/12, Rose) adds, "The decision came in a test case by Evelyn Coke, a 73-year-old Jamaican immigrant who, with union backing, sued a Long Island, N.Y.-based home-care agency."

  • The AP (6/12) writes, "Lawyers for Coke challenged the Labor Department regulation, and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City ruled in the workers' favor," saying "it was 'implausible' that Congress would have wanted the Labor Department to wipe out protection for an entire category of workers."

  • The Los Angeles Times (6/12, Savage) reports, "With an estimated 1 million workers now assisting the elderly and the injured in their homes, unions and civil rights groups had urged the justices to repeal the rule because it deprives many of the nation's lowest-paid workers of a decent wage. These employees tend to be women and minorities and often work all night, but they do not earn enough to rise above the poverty level, the advocates said."

  • However, UPI (6/12) reports, "The issue is not that home-care agencies do not want to pay better wages, said New York State Association of Health Care Providers President Phyllis Wang, but because Medicare and Medicaid rates are set by the government, home healthcare agencies cannot raise rates like more traditional businesses in order to provide higher wages and benefits."

  • Also, a separate AP (6/12, Yost) story notes that "Coke's former employer, Long Island Care at Home Ltd., says it would experience 'tremendous and unsustainable losses' if it had to comply with federal overtime requirements."

  • Moreover, the New York Times (6/12, B3, Greenhouse) adds, "The Bloomberg administration filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that a victory for Ms. Coke could force the city, state and federal governments, which finance home care through Medicaid, to pay $250 million more a year to the 60,000 home-care attendants in the city." The Times continues, "The main question in the case was whether several 1974 amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) exempted home-care aides employed by agencies from minimum-wage and overtime protections. In contrast, all sides agreed that those amendments exempted aides hired directly by the elderly or infirm." Writing for the court, Justice Stephen G. Breyer "acknowledged that the Labor Department had issued conflicting regulations. One says that home-care aides employed through agencies or other third parties are exempt from protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and another that aides should not be exempt from minimum-wage and overtime protections unless they work in the home of their employer."

  • USA Today (6/12, Biskupic) reports, "AARP lawyer Sarah Lock said the decision would make it more difficult for families to find attendants to undertake personal care of the ill and elderly, such as bathing and dressing. Lock called the decision a 'great disappointment' for AARP members of the baby-boom generation who are caring for aging parents and also concerned with their own needs." The "Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which backed Coke, and other advocates for home-care aides said they would push for federal legislation to lift the exemption or encourage a new administration to interpret the FLSA to cover the attendants." Ruling won't affect every state.

  • Meanwhile, Bloomberg (6/12, Stohr) reports, "At least 10 states impose their own minimum-wage and overtime requirements on providers that employ home-care workers."

  • For example, the Philadelphia Inquirer (6/12, Von Bergen) notes that "yesterday's decision will have little bearing on two local overtime cases involving home-care workers," because "Pennsylvania wage laws do not have the same ambiguities as the federal law. ... Philadelphia-area home-health employees, working with the Service Employees International Union, have filed lawsuits against two nonunion home-care agencies -- Lee's Industries Inc., of Germantown, and Total Health Home Care Corp., of Upper Darby."

  • The Wall Street Journal (6/12, A12, Bravin, Anderson) also notes the Supreme Court's decision.
posted by Tom Mayo, 10:25 AM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter