Are Home Health Workers Owed Overtime?
Overtime pay is owed to home care workers employed by third-party agencies in the state of Colorado. Those employed directly by households or families are not required to be paid overtime. This is the bottom line result reached by an opinion issued on September 24, 2015 by a federal judge who was interpreting a provision of Colorado’s labor law on overtime.
What does this ruling mean to home health workers in Colorado?
This decision means that home health workers have been entitled to overtime pay for years, under state law. Given that many, if not most, home health agencies in Colorado have not been paying overtime wages to their employees, these employees now have a claim to recover unpaid back wages.
Are Home Health Care Companies Owed Overtime?
The question of whether home health care “companions” are legally entitled to overtime pay under Colorado’s Minimum Wage Order has been hotly disputed. While caregivers do not receive overtime under federal law (yet), Colorado’s labor law contains language that appears to provide greater protection and benefit than federal law.
The Home Health Care Issue in Court
This decision is the first to rule on this issue and is a major victory for employees. The court was called upon to decide whether the companion exemption to Colorado’s state law’s overtime protections – which covers workers who provide home health care services for the elderly, ill or disabled – applies only to those hired directly by home care patients or their families, or if it also applies to the employees of third-party home health agencies. The judge concluded that the exemption from the overtime rules only applies to “companions” employed directly by the household or family for which the employee is providing services – NOT to workers employed by or through home health care businesses.
Specifically, the Court was tasked with determining — as a matter of first impression — whether the phrase “employed by households or family members to perform duties in private residences” modified solely “domestic employees,” or if it also modified the other two occupational categories (i.e., companions and casual babysitters). In doing so, the Court analyzed the exemption’s plain language and concluded that the only grammatically sound reading of that language dictated that the household qualifier is applicable to the antecedents “companions” and “casual babysitters,” as well as to “domestic employees.” The Court also wrestled with what deference it should provide to an August 3, 2006 “Opinion Letter” by the Colorado Division of Labor, which advised that “applying the companionship exemption in situations involving third party employers is acceptable under Colorado Minimum Wage Order Number 22.” Ultimately, the Court decided that, because the 2006 Opinion Letter was contrary to the Companion Exemption’s plain language and was conclusory and disclaimer-riddled, the 2006 Opinion Letter was not entitled to deference.
Bayada Home Health Care was the employer in this case, however, the ruling covers all similar businesses operating in the state of Colorado. Expect to see more overtime pay lawsuits brought by home health care workers employed by agencies in Colorado as news of this important decision spreads.
If you are a current or former home health worker in Colorado (employed by an agency/business) and have questions about whether or not you have been properly paid for overtime, we can help answer your questions. Please call us at 1-866-559-0400, email us at [email protected] or submit your information using our convenient Case Evaluation form for a FREE and CONFIDENTIAL review of your circumstances.