Federal Judge Scolds DOL over Definition of “Companionship Exemption”

On January 15, 2015, a federal judge threw out the Department of Labor’s (DOL) definition of “companionship services” in the home care workers’ rule that had been scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2015. Home Care Ass’n of Am. v. Weil, (D.C. Cir. 2015). The same judge previously invalidated the third-party exemption limitation in the DOL regulations.

Currently, some home care workers are exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act’s companionship exemption. Had this regulation become effective, it would have narrowed the definition of “companionship services,” making minimum wage and overtime pay mandatory for many home care workers who do not currently receive it. These workers typically provide companionship to the elderly and disabled.

In another harshly worded ruling, Judge Leon noted that the DOL has authority to clear up ambiguity in statutory language, but not to contradict the FLSA statutory language with its definitions of terms. The opinion emphasizes that Congress, not the DOL, is empowered to define and redefine work that qualifies for the companionship exemption. The current definition has been in place for 40 years and no statutory language changes have occurred to require regulatory updates.

Employers in this industry should be aware that the DOL will likely appeal this decision. MSEC will provide updates as they happen. If you have questions about this change, please contact an MSEC attorney.