Court to hear dispute over wage rights for home health aides

The Labor Department will argue in front of the nation’s second most influential court on Thursday to reinstate a rule that would grant minimum wage and overtime pay to home care workers.

In January, federal district court judge Richard Leon threw out the agency rule that redefined the definition of “domestic service employment” and “companionship services” and excluded third-party employers from claiming exemptions they had qualified for since 1974.

Under the Fair Labor Standard Act, third-party employers have been exempt from having to pay overtime if a domestic service employee is hired to provide companionship services to elderly and disabled individuals unable to care for themselves.

The new rule however, said if and employee is spending more than 20 percent of their day providing care - – preparing meals, helping patients get dressed or use the bathroom – the employer would be disqualified.

The International Franchise Association (IFA), Home Care Associates of America and the National Association for Home Care & Hospice sued the Labor Department for changing the 40-year-old exemption and redefining care.

Though Leon acknowledged in his opinion that the agency has the authority to define “companion services,” he said it does not have a “blank check to do so in a way that contradicts the Fair Labor Standards Act itself.”

The Department of Labor is now appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to have the rule, which was set to take effect on Jan. 1 of this year, reinstated.