The exclusion of home care workers from the FLSA is emblematic of all that is wrong with the way our society values (or doesn’t value) women’s work. This 90% female workforce does vitally important work for their clients, such as bathing, clothing, and administering medication. Yet, this work – like work in many female-dominated jobs – is among the most poorest paid. Home care workers typically earn below $10 an hour.
In 1975, only one year after Congress extended the FLSA’s protections to domestic workers employed by individual households, the Department of Labor took these protections away from home care workers through an expansive reading of the “companionship” exemption. This interpretation was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007, and home care workers and their advocates have been clamoring for the rule released today ever since. Read more »
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the cornerstone federal labor law that established the first federal minimum wage and overtime standards. As my colleague Colette Irving explains in her post today, the history of the FLSA has included some big steps forward — and a few steps back — for women over the past 75 years.
The expansion of FLSA coverage in 1974 to domestic workers working in private homes was one such step forward, as women represented the majority of domestic workers who benefited from this expansion. But an exemption enacted at the same time had an adverse impact on women that has only grown worse over time. Specifically, the 1974 FLSA amendments created a “companionship exemption,” which Congress intended to exclude only casual babysitters or “elder-sitters” from the domestic service coverage. However, in 1975, the Department of Labor (DOL) interpreted this exemption very broadly to cover home care workers employed by third parties — workers who, prior to the 1974 amendments, had been protected under the FLSA’s provisions regulating enterprises engaged in interstate commerce.
Since 1975, this expansive reading of the companionship exemption has proven to be disastrous for women, who represent about 90 percent of the home care workforce. Read more »
75 years ago today, President Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) into law. For the first time in history, the federal government guaranteed men and women a minimum wage and overtime pay, extending basic workplace protections to all as a matter of law — an important step forward for the labor movement and for women’s equality, as many state minimum wage laws enacted in previous decades had only applied to women. However, while not exclusively geared towards women, the FLSA has contributed greatly to the economic empowerment of women in this country.
The legislative victory of the FLSA came after years of negotiations spearheaded by the legendary Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. After joining President Roosevelt in 1933 as the first female cabinet member in history, Secretary Perkins set out to establish a “floor under wages and a ceiling over hours” [PDF, p. 34] for all American workers. President Roosevelt shared her conviction: "Our Nation so richly endowed with natural resources and with a capable and industrious population should be able to devise ways and means of insuring to all our able-bodied working men and women a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.”
When Congress enacted the FLSA in 1938, it boldly promised workers fair wages and hours, but limited that promise in scope. A late version of the FLSA “contained the bare essentials [Secretary Perkins] could support” and Congress stripped the final version even further, resulting in a series of exemptions to limit the types of industries that needed to comply with the Act (like agriculture). However, the FLSA has been amended several times, and, with each amendment, Congress has renewed the effort to fully implement its original goal of a fair day’s pay for all working men and women — with varying degrees of success. Read more »
On Tuesday, in Genesis Healthcare Corp v. Symczyk, the Supreme Court struck a blow to collective actions under the Fair Labors Standards Act (“FLSA”). In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that courts lack jurisdiction to hear collective action cases if the named plaintiff’s (or plaintiffs’) own claims are “moot.” Under the FLSA, collective actions are similar to class actions in that they allow plaintiffs to sue on behalf other unnamed, but similarly situated, individuals, but collective actions do not require many of the stringent limitations imposed on class actions (such as numerosity or typicality of claims). The Supreme Court’s decision means that if the named plaintiff no longer has a “personal stake” in the case and no other individuals have yet joined the case, no relief is available to the group and the case must end, even though the named plaintiff’s complaint sought damages for a group and not solely for herself. Read more »
In a win for workers everywhere, last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied Wells Fargo’s petition for a writ of mandamus in a case involving the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) collective action mechanism.
Okay, a writ of mandamus is just a fancy way of telling someone to do something. In seeking a writ of mandamus, Wells Fargo was asking the Fifth Circuit to tell the district court in Texas that it messed up and needed to try again. And in denying the petition, the Fifth Circuit politely said “thanks, but no thanks.”
So what’s the issue here? Well, the FLSA requires that certain employees be paid overtime for any works weeks over 40 hours. And the collective action mechanism in the FLSA allows workers to bring lawsuits on behalf of themselves and others to enforce this law.
The National Women’s Law Center filed an amicus brief urging the court to deny Wells Fargo’s motion for the writ (so: yay, we won!). We explained why collective actions are essential to women workers’ claims under the Equal Pay Act (EPA), an amendment to the FLSA, and why the way the district court handled the case was appropriate. Read more »
Today the Supreme Court is hearing argument in Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk. In this case, the plaintiff, Laura Symczyk, alleges that her nursing home employer violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by deducting a 30-minute lunch break from her wages and the wages of her coworkers, regardless of whether they worked during their scheduled breaks.
The question before the Court is whether an employer’s offer of settlement to the named plaintiff in a class action alleging company-wide violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) can end the case, when the employer makes the settlement offer before any of the named plaintiff’s coworkers have a meaningful opportunity to join the case. If the Court’s answer to this question is yes, then employers will have the power to shut down class actions challenging wage and hour violations before they begin, leaving other affected employees without the chance to have their claims heard.
Such a holding would undermine the intent of the FLSA which was to protect vulnerable workers from exploitation and abuse. When Congress passed this landmark legislation in 1938 it provided for “collective actions” through which groups of workers could band together to enforce their rights. Read more »
Today, the Center filed a friend of the Court brief in Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk. This important case will decide whether a defendant in a class action brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)—called a “collective action” under that statute—can end the case by offering the lead plaintiff a settlement for her own claims before any other plaintiffs have had a meaningful opportunity to join the lawsuit. The case involves a suit brought under the FLSA on behalf of nursing home workers, who are predominantly women earning near poverty-level wages.
The FLSA is a landmark law passed during the Great Depression that is designed to protect workers from oppressive wage and hour conditions. The Equal Pay Act (EPA), which outlaws pay discrimination based upon gender, was passed as an amendment to the FLSA in 1963. Both the FLSA and the EPA allow for “collective actions,” where one employee can sue on behalf of herself and other employees whose rights are being violated in the same way. In a collective action, the other employees must “opt in” to participate in the case. The Center believes that collective actions are vital to enforce the FLSA and the EPA and to protect low-wage working women, including women in the nursing home industry. Read more »