Science

Ga. Supreme Court Hears Debate On Home Care Workers’ Wages

J. Tyler Raphael Sheets (center) with his adoptive mother, Monica Sheets (right) and Bobbi Jo Lorah, RN, his private-duty nurse who provides care for chronically ill children at home or at school.
J. Tyler Raphael Sheets (center) with his adoptive mother, Monica Sheets (right) and Bobbi Jo Lorah, RN, his private-duty nurse who provides care for chronically ill children at home or at school.
Credit Christiana Care / flickr.com/ChristianaCare

The Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments Monday on whether or not in-home care providers are entitled to earning a minimum wage under state law.

In 2013, a group of in-home care providers filed a lawsuit in DeKalb County against the company Southern Home Care Services, a home health care company that employs workers to provide in-home care services to the elderly and those with disabilities.

The workers claimed they weren’t getting paid Georgia’s minimum wage of $5.15 an hour after they factored in the time they traveled during the work day between job sites.

The court will have to answer if Georgia’s minimum wage compensation should kick in when there are federal law exemptions.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act exempts employees who provide “companionship services” from minimum wage and overtime protections. Because the workers here are not covered by federal law, they claim they are covered under Georgia’s minimum wage law.

But Georgia’s law exempts “domestic employees” from minimum wage protections, and the court will also have to define what that term means.

Geoffrey Pope, an attorney for the in-home care providers, says the term “domestic employee” has been defined by a number of different agencies. 

“In order for consistency, we just urge the court to just adopt the definition from the Georgia Department of Labor that would require that, to be a domestic employee, [work] needs to be performed in the home of the employer,” Pope argued.

But in this case, the employer is not a person in the home, but a third-party company.

Matthew Boyd, who represents Southern Home Care Services, says the workers are “clearly” domestic employees because of the nature of their work.

“They’re helpers in and around the home for people who need it due to their age or disability,” Boyd said.  Boyd said the state law also exempted “any employer” of domestic employees from paying a minimum wage.

The issue of minimum wage and overtime protections for these types of workers are also being challenged on a national level. In 2013, the Department of Labor under the Obama administration extended protections for these types of domestic workers, which was to go into effect in January 2015. That rule change is being fought in a federal appeals court in D.C.