Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Agency Home Aide Workers Exempt From FLSA

Yesterday, in the case of Long Island Care at Home, Ltd. v. Coke, the U.S. Supreme Court held unanimously that home aide workers furnishing services through an employment agency are exempt from the payment of minimum wages and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as amended (the "FLSA").

Although the FLSA specifically exempts aides hired directly by the elderly or the infirm (see 29 U.S.C. Sec. 213(a)(15)), the Coke case resolves for the first time the issue of whether such workers are exempt if hired through an agency; the statute is silent on this point. In addition, the case resolves conflicting regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Labor (the "USDOL") regarding the exemption status of those workers when hired through third-parties such as employment agencies. Justice Breyer, writing for the Court, stated that deference should be given to the USDOL as the expert in the area, and that the agency's most recent interpretations of the FLSA favor the exemption.

The holding in Coke reverses the decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals which had invalidated the USDOL's regulation exempting home aide workers from wage protections. As expected, employer representatives have applauded the Court's decision while workers and labor unions are unhappy with it.

Not for nothing, but the Court's decision seems logical inasmuch as the FLSA already exempts the workers if they are hired directly by an individual; hiring them through an agency shouldn't change the exemption status. Of course, legislation may be enacted eventually to moot the holding in Coke by extending FLSA wage protections to home aide workers for all purposes; however, until such time, the exemption applies across the board.

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