Home health aide worker with patient (161166)
Credit: Flickr

A recent ruling by a federal appeals court reinstated a rule change that provides home care workers with minimum wage and overtime protection. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon issued a decision vacating a change made by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2013 that readjusted the Fair Labor Standards Act so home care workers would receive the same protection as other workers. Leon’s decision, which stated that the Department of Labor didn’t have the authority to redefine the loophole it wanted to close, was vacated by the appeals court in Washington Aug. 21.

“Today’s decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is vital to nearly 2 million home care workers, who will now qualify for minimum wage and overtime protections,” read a DOL online statement that linked to the decision. “The decision confirms this rule is legally sound. And just as important, the rule is the right thing to do—both for employees, whose demanding work merits these fundamental wage guarantees, and for recipients of services, who deserve a stable and professional workforce allowing them to remain in their homes and communities.”

The court decision also earned the praise of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who believes this decision should be the final judgment on the issue.

“In New York, overtime pay and minimum wage rules are fundamental parts of fair compensation, but for too long this basic premise did not apply to home health care workers in other states,” said Cuomo. “The court’s decision in Home Care Association of America v. David Weil will ensure that people in home health jobs across the country receive this important protection, and it is another step forward for our nation when it comes to safeguarding workers’ rights.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 90 percent of home health care workers in the United States are women and 50 percent are people of color. These workers haven’t been eligible for minimum wage and overtime pay in 41 years. In 1974, they fell under the companionship exemption, which suggested that they only provided their clients company and nothing else. According to the website ThinkProgress.org, New York City home health care workers made less than $15,000 annually.

Democratic administrations have attempted to eliminate this exemption since the late 1980s and early 1990s, but some home health care groups are afraid that the decision will lead to chaos and job cuts by companies to reduce the incoming costs. However, SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry sees nothing but the positive with the ruling.

“This is an enormous step forward for home care workers and for our country,” said Henry in a statement. “We are closing the sad chapter of racial discrimination that was ingrained in the Fair Labor Standards Act and ensuring that 2 million home care workers now have the same protections the vast majority of Americans have at work. Now, we are calling on Americans, senior and disability rights advocates to join us in our movement to make sure all home care workers earn a living wage.”