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University of Iowa News Release


June 12, 2007

Law Professor Smith Comments On Supreme Court Home Health Care Decision

A University of Iowa law professor believes that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Monday will make it more difficult to find qualified caregivers to work in the home health care field.

"This decision may have a disastrous impact on the home health care labor market," said Peggie Smith, an expert in the field of labor and employment law who wrote a brief to the Supreme Court in the case of Long Island Care at Home Ltd. v. Coke. In its decision on the case handed down Monday, the justices unanimously decided that home health care workers employed by third-party agencies are not entitled to overtime pay.

In its decision, the Court said the Department of Labor was within its rights to exempt home health care workers from parts of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regarding pay, as it did in 1975.

"Where an agency rule sets forth important individual rights and duties. . . and where the rule itself is reasonable, then a court ordinarily assumes that Congress intended it to defer to the agency's determination," Associate Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the Court.

While not surprised by the ruling, Smith said the decision nevertheless "sends a signal that home health care has so little value that workers in the field are not even deserving of minimum wages and overtime compensation."

"Few workers, with decent job alternatives, will stay in a field with such poor working conditions and which lacks the most basic of employment rights," she said. "You'll continue to see a high turnover rate of workers at a time when more and more people will need in-home health care."

In her brief in the case, Smith told the justices that the FSLA exempts companions from minimum wage and overtime pay only if they are employed directly by the person receiving care, or by that person's family or guardian. She argued that home care workers employed as companions by third-party employers such as agencies are protected, and thus entitled to minimum wage and overtime under the law.

"The historical record demonstrates that Congress did not intend the exemption to apply to third-party employers," Smith wrote in the brief.

In the wake of Monday's decision, Smith speculates that more states might seek approval to use Medicaid and other funds to pay relatives to provide home health care to elderly family members. "Family members, many of whom are used to providing care for no compensation, are more likely to tolerate some of the poor working conditions that plague the job." She also anticipates that labor unions may step up their efforts to organize home health care workers in order to provide workplace protections.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010,