Georgia Supreme Court Says Home Care Workers Covered by State’s Minimum Wage Law

In a unanimous decision, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in November that home care workers who are employed by third-party service providers and perform their jobs in the homes of the employers’ clients are not exempt from the Georgia minimum wage law. The employees, who may have opened the door for similar claims from thousands of workers, argued successfully that, when one included their time traveling from one client home to another within a single work day, they received total compensation that amounted to less than $5.15 per hour.

The employer in this case was Res-Care, Inc., and its subsidiary, Southern Home Care Services. The employer was in the business of providing in-home care and personal support services. Employees might help clients bathe, go to the bathroom, dress, groom themselves, and get around their home. They also might undertake some domestic chores like washing dishes and laundry. Employees often provided care to multiple clients during a single day, and they were not paid for traveling from one home to another.

Four former employees, Margaret Anderson, Mary Dixon, Latasha Williams, and Kyonnie Sutherland, sued the employer for violating Georgia’s minimum wage law. The employees argued that, when the employees’ travel time was taken into account, they were receiving less than the $5.15 floor mandated by the Georgia statutes.

The employers, on their side, argued that they did not have to pay minimum wages under Georgia’s law because they were subject to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The employees modified their lawsuit to state that they were exempt from the FLSA because their job was “companionship services.” The employer countered by arguing that the workers offered domestic employee services, not companionship services.

Ultimately, the state’s Supreme Court sided with the employees. Although the Georgia minimum wage law does not apply to domestic employees, the court concluded that these workers did not fit a reasonable definition of a domestic employee. To qualify as a domestic employee, the court decided, a worker must perform her services in the home of her employer. In Res-Care’s business model, the worker is not working in the home of her employer. The worker is employed by a third-party employer and performs her duties in the homes of the clients of that employer.

This position on who does, or does not, count as a “domestic employee” was consistent with Georgia regulations. The state Department of Labor had previously issued a regulation defining “domestic services,” in which it stated that the services “must be performed by an individual in or about the private home… of the person employing” the service provider.

The court also rejected the employer’s argument that ruling in favor of these workers could lead an unworkable result, entitling administrative, executive, professional, and teaching employees to be paid. As a matter of its practical outcome, the ruling would affect few workers. The court calculated that a professional employee who worked 80 hours a week for 52 weeks would have to receive a salary of less than $21,424 for this ruling to affect them. A Georgia teacher, whom the law guarantees a minimum salary of $31,586, would have to work 20 hours per day from the beginning of August through the end of May to have a claim under the Minimum Wage Law.

The court’s decision could open the door for many home care assistants to seek back pay for hours for which they were not compensated. An article in the Daily Labor Report stated that the number of home care employees who could have claims as a result of this ruling could approach 11,000.

Whether a group of employees is covered by the state or federal minimum wage laws can be a tricky question in some situations. If you are an employee or an employer with a question about the FLSA or the Georgia minimum wage law, it is important to secure knowledgeable legal advice. For reliable answers and zealous representation in your minimum wage case, contact the Georgia wage violations attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert.

To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call 404-873-8048.

More blog posts:

New Legislative Session Brings Talk of a $15 Minimum Wage in Georgia, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Jan. 14, 2015

Georgia Court Dismisses State Law Wage and Hour Claim, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Jan. 14, 2015

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