In a second decision in the case challenging federal Department of Labor regulations relating to the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) companionship care exemption, the US District Court for the District of Columbia vacated the portion of the regulations that would have narrowed the definition of companionship services to exclude much of the care provided to aged and disabled clients. Home Care Association of America v. Weil, Case No. 14-cv-0967 (RJL) (Jan. 14, 2015).

On December 24, 2014, DLA Piper reported the court’s first decision vacating other parts of the new regulations, including those that would have prevented third-party home care agencies from classifying their companionship care providers as exempt from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime pay requirements. 

The FLSA exemption at issue is for employees providing domestic companionship services to the elderly and individuals with disabilities. See 29 U.S.C. §213(a)(15). Prior DOL regulations, which had been in effect for 40 years, defined companionship services to mean services which provide “fellowship, care, and protection” to persons unable to care for their own needs due to advanced age or physical or mental infirmity, and to include household work related to care for the aged or disabled person. The prior regulations excluded services performed by medically-trained personnel, such as registered nurses, as well as general household work that exceeded 20 percent of the weekly hours worked.

The new regulations, which were to take effect on January 1, 2015, required the services provided to be primarily “fellowship” and “protection” and would have severely limited the amount of “care” that could be provided. Care, which the new regulations defined to include providing assistance with activities of daily living and with tasks that enable the client to live independently at home, such as meal preparation, driving, light housework, managing finances, assistance with taking or medications and arranging medical care, was limited to 20 percent of the employee’s weekly work hours. The new definition also removed any work performed primarily for the benefit of other members of the household from the definition of companionship services.

Judge Leon vacated § 552.6 of the new regulations, stating that the new limitations on providing care defied logic and Congressional intent. The court observed that the new DOL definition “would write out of the exemption the very ‘care’ the elderly and disabled need, unless it were drastically limited in the quantity provided so as to be of little practical use.”