Court Rules Home Health Care Workers Must Be Given Wage and Overtime Protections

Ruling Helps Bring Domestic Workers Into Economic Mainstream

August 21, 2015 4:30 pm

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WASHINGTON – In a decision that will have far-reaching implications for some 2 million home health care workers, a federal appeals court today affirmed the Department of Labor’s authority to issue regulations that grant basic wage and overtime protections to long-term domestic workers.

The ruling in Home Care Association of America v. Weil, a case brought by the home care industry, upholding the regulations as a reasonable interpretation of labor laws.

“This ruling is a resounding victory for home health care workers employed by agencies, 90 percent of whom are women and the majority of whom are women of color,” said Lenora Lapidus, director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “These are among the poorest workers in the United States and have been historically excluded from federal labor protections.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, and Legal Momentum filed a friend-of-the-court brief in May 2015 supporting the Labor Department. The brief argues gender stereotypes and long-held assumptions suggest that domestic-care-giving work is unworthy of labor law protections and that the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act codified these beliefs by excluding this class of largely African-American and immigrant women.

This ruling rightly validates the Department’s recognition that the vast majority of these workers are professionals and critical breadwinners for their families,” said Art Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital. “They deserve the labor protections that they have long been denied unfairly.”

Following years of advocacy by civil rights and workers’ rights groups, the Labor Department issued rules in 2013 requiring workers employed by third-party agencies to be paid minimum wages and overtime. The rules also sought to narrow the definition of casual babysitters and elder companions who would remain exempt from wage protections.

The home care industry challenged the Labor Department’s power to eliminate these exemptions for domestic workers and in December of 2014, a federal judge in the District of Columbia agreed, prompting the government to appeal.

The court of appeals reversed the lower court and found the regulations to be valid.

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