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DOL Urged to Release Final Rule on the Companionship Exemption

June 14, 2012

Advocates marked the five-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Long Island Home Care v. Evelyn Coke on June 11 by calling on the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to move quickly to release its final regulation extending federal minimum wage and overtime protections to the nation’s 2.5 million home care workers.

DOL proposed a rule in December 2011 to revise the companionship exemption so that home care workers are no longer excluded from basic labor protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act. It is critical, however, that the final rule be released early enough in the regulatory process to ensure that labor protections are not rolled back.

“As national elections draw near, we are reminded that efforts to narrow the companionship exemption under President Clinton failed when the George W. Bush Administration did not proceed with finalizing the rule,” said PHI President-Elect Jodi Sturgeon.

Coke Paved the Way

Evelyn Coke, an agency home care worker, sued her Long Island employer for back pay when she discovered that, though she often worked long hours in her clients homes, she had never received overtime pay.

Evelyn Coke

Coke’s case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that because of FLSA’s exemption of “companions to the elderly,” her employer had done nothing illegal. The Court also ruled, however, that the DOL could reinterpret the “companionship exemption” to expand wage and hour protections to home care aides.

After DOL issued the proposed rule last December, it received more than 26,000 comments — with two-thirds in favor of the proposed changes — during the public comment period.

“While Evelyn Coke will never see the day when home care workers are treated under the law like most workers in the nation, millions of home care workers will benefit from her courageous fight for fair pay when a revised regulation finally is enacted,” Sturgeon said. “The time has come to come to finish what Ms. Coke started.”

Not a Done Deal

PHI and other advocates are urging that supporters of fair pay for home care workers sign the change.org petition to tell DOL, the Office of Management and Budget, and the White House to issue a final ruling on the proposed regulation before the end of the summer.

“It’s not a done deal,” warns National Employment Law Project Legal Co-Director Catherine Ruckelshaus in a commentary published on CNN.

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