A federal court ruled yesterday that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) with its regulation that excluded third-party employers from the application of the “companionship services” and “live-in domestic services” overtime exemptions.
The lawsuit challenging DOL’s new narrowed interpretation of the companionship exemption was filed by the Home Care Association of America, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice (NAHC), and the International Franchise Association. It was filed in US District Court for the District of Columbia. The opinion was written by judge Richard J. Leon. The full text of Judge Leon’s decision is available here.
Yesterday, NAHC’s Vice President for Law Bill Dombi drafted the following questions and answers, which provide further background on the implications of this ruling:
The Overtime Lawsuit: What Does the Court Ruling Mean?
The decision issued by the federal court on December 22, 2014 is a big win for home care, but much remains to be done to fully preserve the overtime exemptions for companionship services and live-in domestic services. Here are some of the most important things to know to understand the impact of the decision and what it means to home care.
Q. What did the court rule?
A. The court ruled that the US Department of Labor violated the plain language of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) with its regulation that excluded third-party employers from the application of the “companionship services” and “live-in domestic services” overtime exemptions. Home care companies are considered third-party employers. Home care workers employed by the direct consumer of the care or their family members acting as the employer are the only parties that could have used the exemptions under the rule that was invalidated by the court. This does not change any state laws that already limit the exemptions or their application.
Q. Does this mean that home care companies do not have to pay hourly home care aides overtime?
A. No. The regulation also redefined companionship services, limiting that definition to fellowship services and no more than 20% of time on personal care or housekeeping tasks. The lawsuit also challenges that part of the new regulation as well. However, that part of the case has not yet been presented to the court. We are now preparing to do so.
Q. Why wasn’t the definition of “companionship services” presented to the court earlier?
A. A tactical decision was made on how the case would be litigated. If the definitional issue was presented before or concurrent with the third-party employer issue there was a serious risk that the lawsuit could make matters worse for home care companies. If the court invalidated the definition of “companionship services,” but upheld the exclusion of third-party employers from the application of the exemption, home care companies would be outside an expanded exemption. Workers directly employed by the consumer would have qualified for the exemption. That would put home care companies at a cost disadvantage to consumer/employer care. Consumers (and state Medicaid programs) would have bypassed the agency model of care in favor of direct employment to save money.
Q. When will there be a court ruling on the definition of “companionship services?
A. A discussion of that will occur between legal counsel from both sides on December 23. It is hoped that the Department of Labor will agree to a temporary hold on the new rule consistent with its “policy action” under which the government will not enforce the rule for at least six months. To do so, the government only needs to agree that private enforcement will be put on hold as well.
Q. If the government does not agree to hold off on the rule, what happens next?
A. We will then need to go back into court to get a temporary injunction before January 1. That will require that we show that we are likely to succeed on the merits when the court fully hears the case and that home care companies will suffer irreparable harm if the court does not maintain the status quo with the current rule.
Q. What about live-in services?
A. The only substantive change that the new rule made to live-in services is the exclusion of workers employed by third-party employers from the exemption. “Live-in domestic services” is a much broader class of employees that would include personal care and housekeeping workers. As such, the court ruling effectively returns that exemption to it current state. Home care companies would not be required to pay live-in workers overtime unless state law requires such.
Q. What should we do now in our company?
A. The best advice we can offer is to “stay tuned” over the next week as much can and will happen to clarify things. However, it would be prudent to continue to expect to trigger whatever action you planned to take on January 1 in the absence of the court’s decision. Things can change that dramatically, that quickly.
Q. Will the government appeal?
A. That is one option open to the Department of Labor. However, they would need to get the federal judge to stay his ruling pending any appeal. If the judge refuses to do so, the government would need to get the Court of Appeals to issue a stay.
While this ruling has no impact on Massachusetts law, we will inform members as additional developments occur in this court case.
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