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Domestic service employees exempt from overtime

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in Human Resources

While the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) overtime provisions apply to the vast majority of employees in the United States, there are some exemptions. One covers so-called “domestic service” employees who perform “services of a household nature” in a private home, but through a third-party agency or employer. 

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the U.S. Labor Department’s own conclusion that such employees don’t get overtime. Now the 11th Circuit has dismissed a case it was considering under the same regulations. It dismissed the case with a clear and unambiguous statement that the law of the land says home health care workers and other domestic-service employees who aren’t employed directly by the persons receiving those services aren’t covered by the FLSA and don’t get overtime.

Recent case: Tammy Buckner worked for an agency that sent caregivers to the homes of mentally disabled patients. She took the patients on field trips and other outings, and worked with them in their homes. Although she frequently worked more than 40 hours per week, she was paid a straight amount per hour and never received overtime.

She sued, alleging the Labor Department didn’t have the authority to define exempt employees in a way that included home health care workers who worked through agencies.

The 11th Circuit followed the Supreme Court’s recent decision and dismissed the case. (Buckner, et al., v. Florida Rehabilitation Network, No. 06-11032, 11th Cir., 2007)

Final note: Even if you aren’t affected by this decision, it is an important one. It shows how the federal courts are thinking. They pay great deference to agency legal interpretations. That may work to the employer’s advantage in this case—but it could also backfire. For example, the EEOC has recently announced several initiatives aimed at practices the agency thinks violate the law. Those interpretations will likely be upheld.

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