DOH Reverses Position on Overtime Pay Under The Wage Parity Act

Executive Summary: On November 2, 2015, the NYS Department of Health (“DOH”) issued important notices affecting the wage and overtime obligations of New York City and Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester County home care agencies. In addition to setting Total Compensation under the Wage Parity Act for March 1, 2016 – February 28, 2017, the DOH reversed its existing position that overtime pay does not reduce the additional and supplemental wage package due on each episode of care hour worked under the Wage Parity Act. This reversal of position has major ramifications for the home care industry in downstate New York.

What was the DOH’s position on overtime? Until issuance of Dear Administrator Letters (“DALs”) titled “Official Notice of Home Care Worker Wage Parity Minimum Rate of Total Compensation,” on November 2, 2015, the DOH had said that, “(o)vertime was not included in the Total Compensation rate of $14.09″ under the Wage Parity Act.” (FAQ No. 7, Home Care Worker Wage Parity FAQs May 2014). Under that interpretation, an agency servicing a WPA covered case in New York City was obligated to pay overtime wages for all hours over 40 in a workweek PLUS an additional wage and benefit package of $4.09 (the “$4.09 Package”). On and after the effective date of the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Final Rule,” October 13, 2015, this meant that an overtime episode-of-care hour under the WPA had a labor cost of $15 in wages and $4.09 Package, for a total cost of $19.09.

What is the DOH’s new position on overtime? Each of the Notices issued by the DOH on November 2, 2015, one for New York City and one for Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester County home care agencies, expressly state that “FAQ number 7 is superseded by this notice.” The Notices state further:

The Overtime premium pay (1/2 times the workers “regular rate of pay”) that employers are required to pay for overtime hours under state and federal minimum wage laws may be used to satisfy the Total Compensation required under the wage parity law. (emphasis added)

This means, says the DOH, that “if the Total compensation rate is $14.09, then the requirement to pay or prove $14.09 is fully satisfied by payment of $15, for that same hour of overtime.” No longer must an agency servicing a WPA case in New York City pay the $4.09 Package on top of $15.00 for an overtime hour.

What questions does this raise for home care agencies?

  1. If the actual cost to an agency for a WPA covered overtime hour as compared to a non-overtime hour has effectively been reduced to $15 per hour, instead of $19.09 per hour, will this reduction in the overtime premium to $.91 be given more weight in deciding whether to provide a worker with overtime hours in order to retain that worker and worker’s client and greater priority to “continuity of care” concerns?
  2. If the DOH’s “Notice Regarding Overtime Pay under Wage Parity,” is, as written, “provided to clarify the extent to which overtime can be used to satisfy the Total Compensation requirements for a given hour of overtime” is this clarification effective retroactively?
  3. If a home care agency has already paid WPA covered overtime hours at $19.09 per hour, is there any recourse or future reduction in WPA $4.09 Package obligations available to that agency?

If you have any questions regarding this Alert or would like our advice of your home care agency’s particular facts and circumstances, please contact our Home Care Group members, Stephen Zweig, Philip Davidoff or Eric Su in FordHarrison’s New York City office at (212) 453-5900, or the FordHarrison attorney with whom you usually work.

24-Hour Shift Cases: Now Far Too Costly To Service?

Executive Summary. Last week, a Manhattan Supreme Court Justice denied a motion to dismiss a class action lawsuit against Chinese–American Planning Council Home Attendant Program, Inc., brought for unpaid wages, overtime, and failing to pay workers properly under the Wage Parity Act, among other alleged violations. That alone is not newsworthy. What is newsworthy is the court’s statement that “(a)rguably, 12 NYCRR 142-3.1 (b) (a NYS Department of Labor Wage Order) indicates that an employee who works a 24-hour shift is entitled to 24 hours pay ….” Decisions from justices in both the Manhattan and Brooklyn Supreme Courts have now reached this same conclusion, which is very troublesome for agencies continuing to service these cases.

The Court’s Reasoning Why 24 Hours Wages Are Due

The court said that the Wage Order differentiates between 24-hour shift residential employees (who have no other home other than the client’s) and non-residential employees (who have their own home, in addition to the client’s), allowing an agency to deduct sleep-time and duty free time only for residential employees. Quoting from the Wage Order, the court found significant the omission of non-residential employees from the following exception:

(A) residential employee – one who lives on the premises of the employer – shall not be deemed to be permitted to work or required to be available to work: (1) during his or her normal sleeping hours solely because such employee is required to be on call during such hours; or (2) at any other time when he or she is free to leave the place of employment.

The court added that no deference was due to a NYS DOL 2010 Opinion Letter which said that residential and non-residential employees should be treated the same for purposes of these deductions from hours worked, because “courts are not required to embrace a regulatory construction that conflicts with the plain meaning of the promulgated language.” Further quoting from the Wage Order, the court also added that “Employees who are ‘on call’ are considered to be working during all hours that they are confined to the workplace including those hours in which they do not actually perform their duties.”

This reasoning is especially significant because it is broader than the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) Final Rule on the Application of the Fair Labor Standards Act to Domestic Service, recently validated by the D.C. Court of Appeals, but not yet effective and in force. Although the Final Rule recognized the difference between 24-hour shift workers who live in a client’s home (which it terms “live-ins”) and 24-hour shift workers who do not, it did not limit the deduction of sleep time or duty free time to live-ins alone.  If the Manhattan and Brooklyn Supreme Court justices’ interpretation of New York law stands, it will supersede the federal rule on this issue.

The Bottom Line. Unless and until an appellate court in New York rules differently, home care agencies who employ “sleep-in” workers are exposed to potential current and past liability for 24-hour shift sleep-in cases when the worker is paid for fewer than 24 hours’ pay.

If you have any questions regarding this Alert or would like our advice regarding your home care agency’s particular facts and circumstances, please contact the author, Stephen Zweig, Partner in FordHarrison’s New York City office, who has counseled and defended home care agencies for over 35 years, at szweig@fordharrison.com or (212) 453-5900, or the FordHarrison attorney with whom you usually work.