U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday refused the home healthcare industry's request to the Supreme Court to delay a lower court's ruling to boost wages for many of its workers.
The lower court's ruling will become effective Oct. 13. The Labor Department, however, has said that it would not start enforcing the rule until 30 days later. The department has also said it would exercise discretion in deciding whether to bring enforcement actions until the end of the year. It will take into consideration good faith efforts to comply with the law, the agency said.
For years, home healthcare agencies haven't had to pay minimum wage or overtime to companionship workers who provide “fellowship, care and protection.” The new rule, however, narrows the definition of companionship workers to those who spend no more than 20% of their time providing actual care, such as feeding and bathing. It would also no longer exempt companionship workers employed by third parties, such as home healthcare providers, from wage protections.
The home healthcare industry argues that the rule will lead to a dearth of affordable home care for seniors and individuals with disabilities and would destabilize the industry. Workers and the Obama administration, however, have said the rule is necessary to ensure fair pay for nearly 2 million workers.
In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez praised Roberts' decision.
“The final rule is not only legally sound; it was the right thing to do,” Perez said. “It will help ensure a stable and professional workforce for people who need those services."
The industry, however, plans to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case in hopes of seeing the rule invalidated.
The industry groups wanted Roberts to agree to a stay of the lower court's ruling pending review by the Supreme Court. The groups had argued that the standards for a stay were met because the Supreme Court would be likely to hear the appeal and because the rule would otherwise cause irreparable harm to companies, consumers and workers.
The industry sent the stay application to Roberts because he's responsible for emergency motions involving the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which issued a ruling upholding the rule in August.
“We are disappointed that the Chief Justice denied the stay request,” William Dombi, co-counsel for the industry in the case and a vice president at the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, said in an e-mail. “It can be expected that the new rules will lead to problems for home care consumers, workers and government programs such as Medicaid.”
He said the home care community will look for ways to lessen harm caused by the new rule as it awaits a decision on whether the Supreme Court will hear its case.
Other industry groups involved in the case include the Home Care Association of America and the International Franchise Association.