A Los Angeles County unpaid home care overtime lawsuit could have national implications. The Ninth Circuit Court recently ruled that home care providers paid through the state or county can file suit for unpaid overtime citing the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Prior to this case, workers paid by the state or county to provide home care were exempt from overtime laws at both the state and federal level.
The introduction of a new Department of Labor (DOL) regulation changed the scenario in 2015, but the change didn’t occur without some kickback. The new regulation was set to go into effect on the first day of 2015, but a federal court in Washington, D.C. blocked it. This ruling was overturned later that same year. In response to the legal action, the DOL decided the new regulation would not be enforced until Nov. 12, 2015 (even though it was initially set to go into effect on January 1, 2015).
In California, compliance with the new regulation was pushed until February of 2016. This prompted an LA County home care worker (In-Home Supportive Services (HSS) program employee) to file a lawsuit to recover 13 months of unpaid overtime (overtime that would be due in accordance with the original “effective” date of the new regulation, Jan. 1, 2015). LA County moved to dismiss arguing that the county was simply acting as part of the larger state and under the 11th amendment, had immunity in this situation.
District court ruled in favor of LA County and stated that home care workers could not recover wages from prior to Nov. 12, 2015, the date “enforcement” started. Both parties filed an appeal, escalating the case to the Ninth Circuit Court.
The Ninth Circuit Court judge maintained that the county had 11th amendment immunity and also that home care service providers could file suit to recover unpaid overtime wages earned as of the original Jan. 1, 2015 effective date of the new DOL regulation. The ruling could mean a significant financial blow for LA County since the county currently employs an estimated 170,000 home care workers in the IHSS program. Additionally, the implications could easily reach outside of this particular case in this specific county. The ruling could open the door to further collective actions filed by home care workers employed through various government programs with more collective actions likely to pop up in different counties.
William A. Dombi, President of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) disagrees. He went on record stating that holding county-level government employers liable for overtime wages during a time period when federal court specifically vacated the requirement is unfair. He also noted that any impact would be limited by the two-year limit on filing FLSA actions.
If you have questions about overtime violations or if you need to discuss your rights as an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik and DeBlouw LLP today.