Sunday, October 12, 2014

Dept. of Labor Delays FLSA Enforcement and Penalties Against Home Healthcare Companies

             Employers in the home healthcare industry will be getting a brief delay in the enforcement of new regulations extending minimum wage and overtime requirements to home healthcare workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). 
The U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) final rule is scheduled to take effect January 1, 2015, but on October 7, 2014, the DOL announced it would delay enforcement and the imposition of penalties for a period of six months, or until June 30, 2015.  For the following six months, or until December 31, 2015, the DOL will exercise its discretion in determining whether to bring enforcement actions, based on the extent to which employers have made “good faith efforts to bring their home care programs into FLSA compliance.”

 It is important for employers to remember that despite the DOL's enforcement delay, they are still required to begin complying with the new rule as of January 1, 2015.
            Up until the new rule, the FLSA contained an exemption that employees providing “companionship services” to elderly persons or individuals with illnesses, injuries, or disabilities were not required to be paid the minimum wage or overtime pay if they met certain regulatory requirements.
            This change will result in nearly two million direct care workers, such as home health aides, personal care aides and certified nursing assistants falling under the requirements of the FLSA.  Business groups and Congressional Republicans had strongly pushed for a complete suspension of the new rule, expressing fears that it would make home healthcare unaffordable and result in disruption to patient care.  In explaining its reason for the additional delay in active implementation, the DOL noted:
When we announced the final rule, we provided a 15-month implementation period before its effective date. We did so out of recognition that home care services financing is complex, and that making adjustments to operations, programs and budgets in order to comply with the rule would take time. Some states, tell us that they’re ready to implement the rule. Others, because of budget and legislative processes, have requested an extension.  After careful consideration, the department decided to adopt a time-limited non-enforcement policy. This approach will best serve the goals of rewarding hard work with a fair wage while not disrupting innovative direct care services.
            For employers seeking more detailed information on the changes to the FLSA under the final rule, the DOL is providing an on-line fact sheet.
Mark Fijman is a labor and employment attorney with Phelps Dunbar, LLP, which has offices in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina and London. To view his firm bio, click here. He can be reached at (601) 360-9716 and by e-mail at fijmanm@phelps.com


Monday, October 6, 2014

EEOC Says “Do as I Say” and “Pay no Attention to What I Do” in Background Check Battle

            In its litigation offensive against employers over the use of criminal/credit background checks in making employment decisions, the federal agency is getting put on the spot over its own employment practices in two high profile cases. 
 
            In earlier posts, I discussed the EEOC’s lawsuits against national retailer Dollar General, and car maker BMW Manufacturing Co., alleging that the employers’ criminal background check policies systematically discriminated against African-American job applicants or existing employees.
 
            In the Dollar General case, the EEOC is currently fighting a motion to compel filed by the retailer, in which Dollar General is asking a U.S. District Court in Illinois to force the anti-discrimination agency to disclose its own policies on using background checks and criminal histories in employment decisions.  In a South Carolina District Court, BMW also has filed a similar motion to compel, seeking all of the EEOC’s documents regarding its policies and guidelines for evaluating the criminal records of individuals applying to work for the federal agency.
 
            Not surprisingly, the EEOC is arguing to the Courts in both cases that it should not be required to turn over the information, claiming the agency’s own practices are irrelevant to the allegations against the two companies.  In response, BMW, echoing an earlier response by Dollar General, noted to the Court:
 
This is not the first time that the EEOC has refused to provide information about its own employee screening policies and procedures while claiming that the policies and procedures of others are        unlawful . . . [a]nd, in all cases, courts have concluded that the information is relevant to issues of business necessity and estoppel and have compelled the EEOC to provide it.

The other cases BMW and Dollar General are referring to likely include the crushing defeat handed to the EEOC earlier this year by the United States Court of Appeals in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Kaplan Higher Education Corporation.  In that case the EEOC sued the educational services company for implementing credit checks after discovering that some employees had stolen student’s financial aid payments. The credit check policy applied to job applicants seeking positions where they would have access to cash or financial information. The EEOC claimed the policy disproportionally impacted “more African-American applicants than white applicants.”
 
In its affirmation of the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the company, the Sixth Circuit blasted the EEOC’s disparate impact theory of liability. In ruling against the EEOC, the Sixth Circuit noted that pursuant to its own personnel handbook, the EEOC runs the very same type of credit checks on its employees because “[o]verdue just debts increase temptation to commit illegal or unethical acts as a means of gaining funds to meet financial obligations.” The court specifically and wryly noted that this was the very same reason that Kaplan adopted its policy.