Roberts Court Clears Way for Home Care Workers’ Wage Protections

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Roberts Court Clears Way for Home Care Workers’ Wage Protections

Jessica Mason Pieklo

An order last week turned away an emergency appeal by industry groups to delay implementation of a Department of Labor rule that grants minimum wage and overtime protections to some home-care workers.

Business interests challenging an Obama administration rule making some home care workers eligible for minimum wages and overtime pay stumbled last week as the Roberts Court turned away a request from industry groups to delay implementation of the rule.

Historically, home care workers were not eligible for basic wage and labor protections because the Department of Labor treated home care workers as informal “sitters” for the elderly or people with disabilities in their care. That changed in 2013 when the labor department issued new rules guaranteeing minimum wage and overtime protections for those home care workers who are hired by agencies.

Home health care is an $84 billion industry with its workers traditionally excluded from wage and hour protections. The work is difficult and stressful, with workers often making poverty-level wages. More than 90 percent of home health-care workers are women and more than half are people of color. One in four home care workers is an immigrant, and one in five is a single mother.

The new rules do not apply to home care workers hired directly by patients or their families.

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Industry groups challenged the federal rules, arguing that if they were implemented they would have a “destabilizing effect on the entire industry.”

A district court judge agreed and blocked their implementation late last year. But in August, a three-judge federal appeals court panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated those protections, overturning the district court. Industry groups filed an emergency appeal of the appellate decision with the Supreme Court, which the Roberts Court rejected.

The Supreme Court order paves the way for the rules to go into effect, but this likely does not represent the end of the legal fight. Industry groups against offering protections to home care workers have said they will appeal the merits of the August ruling to the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. That means the rules could eventually make their way back to the Roberts Court.