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Eight Years After SCOTUS Home Care Decision, Workers Still Denied Fair Pay

June 11, 2015

June 11 marks eight years since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case Long Island Care at Home v. Evelyn Coke, and home care workers are still waiting to receive the basic wage protections afforded to most workers in the nation under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Evelyn Coke, a home care worker from Queens, had sued her employer, Long Island Care at Home, because she hadn’t been paid time-and-a-half wages for the overtime hours she had worked. She argued that she was entitled to overtime pay under FLSA. Her employer, however, maintained that as a home care worker, Coke fell under FLSA’s “companionship exemption,” and was therefore not entitled to earn time-and-a-half overtime pay or even the federal minimum wage.

On June 11, 2007, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Long Island Care at Home had, in fact, interpreted FLSA correctly. However, it also said that the companionship exemption could be reinterpreted to include home care workers, either by a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) rule or by Congress.

In late 2011, President Obama announced his intention to seek a rule change through DOL. Following a lengthy public comment period, the DOL Final Home Care rule was published in the Federal Register in 2013, scheduled to be implemented January 1, 2015.

But the home care industry has pushed back against the idea of paying home care workers a fair wage. Just days before the FLSA rule change was scheduled to take effect, Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia granted the industry a temporary stay on implementation. Then, on January 14, Leon vacated the rule entirely.

But DOL has fought to restore the rule. Its appeal was heard at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on May 7.

— by Matthew Ozga

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