Home Health Unions & Overtime Exemptions

In a positive win for agencies, a Federal judge has rule that 5,000 home care workers in New York do not meet the standards for collective bargaining. But within this decision is something else very important: the workers who were trying to form a union were using the premise that they were entitled to overtime pay.  However, until recently, companionship services were exempt by the DOL FLSA.  Using this standard, the judge ruled against the workers forming the union.


The main argument that decided the case was this: the plaintiffs were unable to clearly identify the amount of time that each home health aide spends doing general housework unrelated to the provision of care based on the needs of their patient.  Since this amount of time and activity varies day to day, and is not consistent amongst employees, the plaintiffs’ claims were disallowed.


A major component of the argument in agencies’ favor was the application of the DOL’s 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule states that employees can be classified as non-exempt only if 20% or more of their time is spent performing non-exempt job duties. Since the DOL uses this rule, not just for healthcare, but across all industries, determining the exempt classification needs to be done individually based on the time each employee spent on one task as compared to the other tasks.  Therefore, since the plaintiff was unable to establish the 20% non-exempt time standard, the case was thrown out.


What does this mean? Well for agencies who find themselves in situations where a labor dispute arises, a new legal precedent has been formed and can be used to defend your agency.  While the case may go forward by appeal; right now, home health agencies have some guidance that can be used.


The specific case is: Cowell vs. Utopia Home Care, Inc., 2:14-c-736 (LDW) (SIL).