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By Jon Steingart
Nov. 23 — Home care workers who fall within the federal minimum wage law's exception for “companionship services” are covered by a provision in the Georgia Minimum Wage Law that's effective only when the federal law doesn't apply, that state's highest court ruled Nov. 23.
Home care workers sued Southern Home Care Services Inc. and its subsidiary Res-Care Inc. in state court. They contended that under state law, the companies should have paid them for the time it took to travel from one patient's home to another's. The case was removed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, where Judge Leigh Martin May put the question to the state court.
The Georgia Minimum Wage Law doesn't apply to employees who are “covered” by the Fair Labor Standards Act. Home care workers aren't covered by the FLSA because of the federal law's exception, the parties stipulated. Therefore, the court said, the workers are covered by the state law.
This ruling stands in contrast to another state's highest court's conclusion in a similar case. Home care companies weren't subject to West Virginia's wage law because the FLSA governs home care workers by specifically excluding them, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals said (King v. W. Va.'s Choice, Inc., 766 S.E.2d 387, 23 WH Cases2d 1460 (2014)).
The companies contended employees who were exempted from the FLSA were still “under its authority,” May said. The workers countered that they were “covered” by the law only if they were entitled to receive compensation under it, she said.
The Georgia law addresses employees who are “covered by the minimum wage provisions of a federal statute,” the state court said. It rejected the companies' contention that the workers shouldn't be covered by the state law because they were covered by other FLSA provisions.
Ruling to the contrary would set a high bar to triggering the state law's protection, the court said. Although it may apply to many employees, “the law will not actually affect most of these employees,” in light of other exceptions to minimum wage requirements, the court said. It was “absurd” to construe the state law as providing “such a minimal level of wage protection,” the court added.
Pope & Howard P.C. , the Law Offices of Benjamin H. Terry P.C and Lee & Braziel LLP represented the home care workers. Hawkins Parnell Thackston & Young LLP represented the companies.
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