As noted in our recent article regarding proposed amendments to the FLSA, individuals providing care to the infirm or elderly in a private home are exempt from the minimum wage and overtime requirements pursuant to the companionship exemption, an exemption which was reviewed by the Supreme Court in its 2007 decision Long Island Care at Home, Ltd. v. Coke, 551 U.S. 158 (2007). Recently, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected a plaintiff’s allegation that the exemption did not apply because more than 20% of her time was devoted to “ordinary housework” as opposed to exempt care as a companion. Rodriguez v. Jones Boat Yard, Inc., 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 15509 (11th Cir. July 26, 2011).
The plaintiff in Rodriguez worked as a “live-in domestic” providing companionship and household services for an elderly woman in Coral Gables, Florida. The Aide worked from 7:00 am until 11:00 pm every day, assisting her client/employer getting out of bed, bathing, dying and combing her hair, and helping her ambulate. She also provided constant care “throughout the day” such as preparing all meals, assisting with dressing, buying necessary medicines, testing and administering her insulin, and assisting in meals. Plaintiff also performed other duties related to her employer’s medical care, including feeding and personal and residence hygiene. Analyzing plaintiff’s deposition testimony, the District Court concluded (and the Circuit Court affirmed) that the duties which were arguably of a general household nature (such as meal preparation, walking the dog, and cleaning the apartment) were incidental duties and did not come close to exceeding 20% of the total hours worked each week, which could jeopardize the applicability of the exemption. The Court also ruled that although the client’s son placed the Aide on his company’s payroll for the purposes of processing payments for these companionship services, this payroll arrangement did not make the son or the son’s corporation (Jones Boat Yard) plaintiff’s employer within the meaning of the FLSA.
The DOL is considering changes to the FLSA which would impact the applicability of the companionship exemption in cases such as Rodriguez. Previously, legislation has been proposed which would eliminate the exemption and reverse the impact of the Coke decision (though such legislation was not passed). Industry employers – and even individuals and their families employing in-home care such as that addressed in Rodriguez – should pay close attention to these developments. Many state laws also provide wage and hour protection to domestic workers.