High Court to Decide Home Health Aide FLSA Exemption

February 13, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A case now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court may decide whether home-health care agencies are required to pay their workers the minimum wage and for overtime hours under the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The court in early January agreed to hear Coke v. Long Island Care at Home, Ltd.,376 F.3d 118 (2d Cir. 2004). The case involves two rulings by the 2 nd US Circuit Court of Appeals that agencies that provide caregivers in the homes of often elderly or infirm clients cannot rely on an FLSA exemption covering “companion” employees.

Under the FLSA, an employer does not have to pay overtime to “any employee engaged in domestic service employment to provide companionship services for individuals who because of age or infirmity are unable to care for themselves. By federal regulation, that exemption was extended to companionship services performed by caregivers “who are employed by an employer or agency other than the family or household using their services.”

According to court documents , Evelyn Coke, aNew York home care attendant, sued her employer in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York alleging that it had not paid her overtime wages. With the support of the Service Employees International Union, Coke also directly challenged the home care exemption as being “unreasonable.”

The lower court ruled for Coke’s employer that she was covered by the exemption. However, in a July 2004 decision, the 2 nd Circuit reversed the lower court, asserting that the extension of the FLSA exemption to third-party employers such as home health agencies was invalid and nonenforcable.

Coke’s employer took the matter to the high court where, in January 2006, the court agreed to take the case. Justices threw out the 2 nd Circuit holding and sent the case back with instructions to further consider a Department of Labor (DoL) memorandum (2005-1).

Finally, in August 31, 2006, the 2nd Circuit essentially repeated its earlier decision throwing out the extension of the FLSA exemption.

According to the Solicitor General’s friend of the court brief filed with the Supreme Court, the DoL’s memorandum reiterated the DoL’s position that the exemption is available to “home health care aides employed by third-party companies or agencies” and asserted that, in holding the exemption unenforceable, the 2nd Circuit had run afoul of Congressional intent.

The first 2 nd  Circuit decision is  here .

The latest 2 nd  Circuit ruling is  here .


The government’s legal brief filed with the high court is   here .

More information about the FLSA is available from the DoL  here .