Long Island Care at Home vs. Coke, a federal case concerning home health worker compensation, got its second hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 16, 2007. Before the justices: the validity of a longstanding Department of Labor regulation regarding â€œcompanionship servicesâ€ provided by third parties (read: home health agencies) â€œto the care of the elderly or infirm.â€ Cokeâ€™s attorneys argued that Congress understood the terms “domestic service employment,” as used in the companionship exemption, to refer only to a personal employment relationship rather than a third-party relationship that involves an agency-employer.
The Second Circuit in this case agreed, overturning the Department of Labor (DOL) regulation that exempted such home care workers from both minimum wage and overtime requirements. Left to stand, at least in the Second Circuit, third-party employers of home health care providers will be liable for backpay and unpaid overtime — and at least need to start paying home health care attendants minimum wage. The detailed briefs of the defendant-home health agency and the plaintiff-aide can be viewed online at the Courtâ€™s website , and the United Statesâ€™ brief filed in support of the home health agency can be viewed at the Department of Justiceâ€™s website.
After the first court ruling in 2004, the DOL issued a memorandum explaining that the Second Circuit was wrong and that the exemption should be upheld. Despite the Supreme Courtâ€™s vacating the Circuitâ€™s earlier decision and remanding the case for reconsideration in light of the DOL memorandum, the Second Circuit, again, struck down the regulation. Essentially, citing administrative deficiencies, the Second Circuit found the DOL exceeded its legislative authority in construing the â€œcompanionship exemptionâ€ to cover third party home health agencies. The case is before the Supreme Court, again, upon the urging of Long Island Care at Home.
The effect of the Courtâ€™s ruling on ever-rising health care costs was not lost on either party. The home health agency argued that health care costs of the elderly and infirm would only rise if the regulation remains invalidated. Ms. Cookâ€™s attorneys countered that a lack of fair wages â€“ not compliance with the wage and hour laws â€“ are the greatest threat to the availability of quality companionship services.
Our best bet, after analyzing the administrative questions involved, is that the Second Circuit decision will be overturned and the DOL companionship regulation upheld. We await the Courtâ€™s ruling.