The New York Court of Appeals recently upheld the New York State Department of Labor’s (DOL) “13-Hour Rule” governing payment of home health care aides that work 24-hour shifts. Leading up to the decision, home health care aides that worked 24-hour shifts brought suits that, in part, argued that the 13-Hour Rule was inconsistent with New York Labor Law.
Under the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations, “the minimum wage shall be paid for the time an employee is permitted to work, or is required to be available for work at a place prescribed by the employer,” (the “Wage Order”). Consequently, the question was raised for home health care aides that work 24-hour shifts and were required to be available for work during the entire shift, as to whether they are entitled to compensation for all 24-hours of their shifts.
In response, the DOL issued an opinion letter that created the 13-Hour Rule. Under the 13-Hour Rule, employers are not required to pay an aide for each hour of a 24-hour shift, so long as the aide is provided both eight hours of sleep time, with at least five uninterrupted hours of sleep time, and three hours for meal breaks.
In recent years, home health aides filed a considerable number of lawsuits challenging the 13-Hour Rule. In one case, Andryeyeva v. New York Health Care, Inc., 153 A.D.3d 1216, 1218 (N.Y. App. Div. 2017), the Second Department of the Appellate Division determined that the DOL’s interpretation of the Wage Order and subsequent 13-Hour Rule were “neither rational nor reasonable, because it conflicts with the plain language of the Wage Order.” Additionally, the court in Moreno v. Future Care Health Servs., Inc., 153 A.D.3d 1254, 1255 (N.Y. App. Div. 2017) also found that the 13-Hour Rule “conflicts with the plain meaning” of the Wage Order.
Andryeyeva and Moreno were then consolidated for the New York Court of Appeals to determine if the Appellate Division “erroneously disregarded [the] DOL’s interpretation” of the wage order. Andryeyeva v. New York Health Care, Inc., 33 N.Y.3d 152 (2019). The New York Court of Appeals held that the 13-Hour Rule does not conflict with the plain language of the wage order “nor is it an irrational or unreasonable construction of the Wage Order” as applied to home health aides working 24-hour shifts. Id. The court’s reasoning deferred to the DOL’s interpretation, given their specialized knowledge of labor law and how it applies to the home health care industry. Id. Additionally, the court noted that the 13-Hour Rule is similar to the Federal Government’s guidance for 24-hour shift employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Id.
However, the New York Court of Appeals reiterated the strict enforcement of the 13-Hour Rule, stating that “even if a home health care aide sleeps without interruption for four hours and 59 minutes, but is not able to obtain five full hours of sleep, [the] DOL mandates the employer pay for the entire eight hours allotted for sleep.” Id.
With the legality of the 13-Hour Rule likely being considered a matter of settled law, litigation is likely to shift from the validity of the 13-Hour Rule to employers’ compliance with the 13-Hour Rule.
With the litigation in this matter shifting from the legitimacy of the 13-Hour Rule to organization’s compliance with it, organizations in the home health care industry need to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to ensure compliance with the 13-Hour Rule. Conscious efforts by home care agencies to ensure compliance with the 13-Hour Rule will protect the organization from preventable litigation and the expenses that go along with it.