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SCOTUS Should Not Accept Challenge to Home Care Wage Rule, Gov’t Argues

March 3, 2016

The Supreme Court should not take up a petition that would threaten the legality of a federal rule change extending basic wage protections to home care workers, a February 24 brief (pdf) filed by federal attorneys argues.

The rule change, which took effect last October and has been fully enforced since January 1, effectively removes most home care workers from the “companionship exemption” to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), thereby granting them minimum-wage and overtime protection for the first time under federal law.

Prior to implementation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously upheld the rule change, which had been challenged by trade associations representing the home care industry.

An industry attempt to stay the D.C. Court’s decision was rejected by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts in October. The trade associations petitioned the Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision the following month.

Gov’t Counters Industry’s Arguments

In its November petition, the trade associations argued that the companionship exemption, as originally written, was specifically designed to exclude home care workers employed by third-party agencies.

But as the government notes in its response brief, the Supreme Court already determined in its unanimous 2007 decision in Long Island Care at Home v. Coke that FLSA “does not expressly answer the third-party-employment question” and that it is not possible to “find any clear answer in the statute’s legislative history.”

The trade associations also argued in November that the rule change “is based on an unreasonable interpretation of [FLSA] and is arbitrary and capricious,” and would make home care unaffordable to consumers.

However, the brief points out that numerous states have long extended minimum-wage and overtime protections to home care workers under their own labor laws, without any discernible disruption of services.

The brief further argues that the home care industry has changed dramatically since the companionship exemption was last revised in the 1970s, “transforming into a multi-billion dollar sector of the economy with a professional workforce.”

The rule change is therefore neither arbitrary nor capricious, but rather a logical response to the growth of the home care industry, the federal brief argues.

— by Matthew Ozga

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