Georgia Supreme Court Hears Home Care Fair Pay Case
Home care agencies in Georgia cannot pay their employees less than the state’s minimum wage, attorneys representing a group of personal care attendants (PCAs) argued before the state Supreme Court on June 1.
The PCAs are employees of Southern Home Care Services, a subsidiary of the for-profit, multi-state home care chain ResCare, which describes itself as the “largest privately owned home care company” in the country.
Lawyers representing the PCAs argued that, after accounting for unpaid travel time, their clients earned less than Georgia’s minimum wage of $5.15/hour.
Under federal law, home care workers are not entitled to the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25. But they are still entitled to Georgia’s minimum wage, the PCAs’ lawyers argued.
The state’s minimum wage law was “enacted in 1970 to ensure that all Georgia employees receive a basic minimum wage in the event the federal minimum wage does not apply to them,” attorneys said during oral arguments (pdf).
Lawyers representing ResCare, however, maintained that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which excludes home care workers from basic wage protections, supersedes the state minimum wage law.
Additionally, they argued that Georgia’s minimum wage law explicitly exempts “domestic workers” from earning the state minimum wage.
The plaintiffs countered that PCAs are employees of ResCare, not their consumers, so they cannot be considered domestic workers, a category that includes maids, babysitters, and gardeners. “The intent of the legislature was not to use the domestic-employee exception to exclude a huge multi-state company from paying Georgia’s minimum wage,” they argued.
A federal rule change that would finally extend basic wage protections to home care workers was scheduled to take effect on January 1, but has been held up in court due to opposition from the home care industry.
— by Matthew Ozga