When is Housework Not Housework? Differences in Interpreting Georgia and Federal Minimum Wage Laws


By: Michael Hill

When it comes to interpreting statutes, the devil is in the details. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled recently that employees for third-party providers of in-home personal care services were not prohibited from receiving Georgia’s minimum wage even though these same workers were exempt from the federal minimum wage. Anderson v. Southern Home Care Servs., Inc., No. S15Q1127 (Ga. Nov. 23, 2015).  The workers in this case provided in-home care to elderly, infirm, and medically homebound patients.  Their work required them to visit more than one patient at different homes throughout the day, but they contend they were not compensated for the time they spent traveling between homes.  They thus filed suit to collect on that allegedly uncompensated travel time.

            Their employers argued that they were exempt under both the Georgia Minimum Wage Law (“GMWL”) and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and thus their employees were not entitled to a minimum wage.  Both laws exempt “domestic” work, but each does so in a slightly different way.  The FLSA exempts domestic work like preparing meals, making beds, and washing clothes, and, until 2015, a federal regulation explicitly permitted third-party providers of these services to claim this exemption.  The GMWL also exempts domestic work from the minimum wage, but there is no state regulation addressing whether third-party employers are entitled to the exemption.  Acting with a free hand, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that work is not domestic work unless performed in the home of the employer.  Here, the in-home personal care workers were working in the homes of their employers’ clients—not in the homes of their employers themselves.  Thus, they may be entitled to a minimum wage under Georgia law.

            This case is a reminder that, even when state and federal statutes use similar language and seem to provide the same exceptions, they may not be interpreted the same way.