A federal judge has put a stop to a new rule requiring that in-home care workers assisting people with disabilities be paid minimum wage and overtime.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said this week that the U.S. Department of Labor overstepped its authority when it moved to mandate pay protections for caregivers.

Under a law dating to back to the 1970s, in-home care workers have been classified much like baby sitters and exempt from many wage protections. The Obama administration sought to change that, instituting regulations — which were set to take effect this month — mandating that the nation’s 2 million home care workers receive at least the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour and qualify for time-and-a-half for working more than 40 hours per week.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Trade groups representing agencies that employ many in-home care workers challenged the new requirements and in two rulings — one in late December and a second this week — Leon put a halt to the Labor Department regulations.

“While the Department of Labor’s concern about the wages of home care providers is understandable, Congress is the appropriate forum in which to debate and weigh the competing financial interests in this very complex issue affecting many families,” Leon wrote in his latest opinion.

Following the ruling, the Labor Department said it stands by the regulations and is considering all of its legal options.

“We believe the rule is legally sound and is the right policy — both for those employees, whose demanding work merits these fundamental wage guarantees, and for recipients of services, who deserve a stable and professional workforce allowing them to remain in their homes and communities,” the agency said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Jodi M. Sturgeon, president of the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute which represents in-home care workers, said she was “deeply disturbed” by the ruling.

“After three full years, the regulatory process has run its course, and America’s 2 million home care workers should not have to wait any longer for fair pay,” Sturgeon said.

However, the self-advocacy group ADAPT, which has long-criticized the wage regulations, praised the judge’s decision.

“The Department of Labor developed this rule without adequate involvement of the disability community which was concerned that without additional Medicaid funding, attendants would lose income that is vital to their lives and individuals with disabilities would be forced into institutions,” the group said in a statement. “ADAPT stands ready to work with organized labor and worker groups to fight for improvements in attendant wages and benefits in a manner that doesn’t sacrifice the rights and freedom of people with disabilities.”

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.