Domestic Workers Bill of Rights
Housekeepers, caregivers for the elderly, and nannies all provide valuable services to families who need a helping hand. Unfortunately, many domestic workers are subject to exploitation, even after providing necessary care for children or the elderly family members of their employers.
Domestic workers can be underpaid, overworked, and harassed, with limited legal options for protection. That is why ten states and a number of cities have passed domestic worker protection laws to extend employment benefits and protections. Federal legislation has also been introduced to help protect domestic workers nationwide.
What Is a Domestic Worker?
Domestic workers are paid household staff that may or may not live in the employer's home. Domestic workers are often caregivers, including nannies, au pairs, and elderly caretakers. Domestic workers also include housekeepers. Each state's definition of a domestic worker is different and a local employment law attorney can help you understand what qualifies as domestic employment.
Domestic Worker Employment Laws
Before domestic worker employment laws, many domestic workers did not qualify as regular employees. These workers are disproportionately women of color and immigrant women. Undocumented domestic workers are particularly at risk of exploitation.
Employment is often unofficial, without filling out I-9 forms or checking immigration status. Many domestic workers are paid in cash and “under the table." Employers also benefit from informal work arrangements because they do not have to pay taxes or keep employment records.
As a result of their unofficial work status, domestic workers are vulnerable to abuse. Common problems for domestic workers include wage theft, harassment, physical abuse, and exploitation. Some live-in domestic workers may be expected to work around the clock, often with little payment, and no time off. Domestic workers may have few options after losing their job, getting injured on the job, or mistreatment.
State Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Laws
New York was the first state to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights law in 2010. Since then, several states and some cities have passed similar laws and more states have pending legislation. States with domestic worker rights laws include:
- New Mexico
- New York
Domestic Worker Protections and Labor Laws
The provisions of each law vary by state. In general, domestic workers' rights protections extend many existing labor law benefits to include specifically domestic workers. Examples of domestic worker bill of rights provisions include:
- Minimum wage requirement
- Overtime over a certain number of hours in a week
- Day of rest minimum
- Paid time off
- Sick time or time off to care for family members
- Workplace discrimination protections
- Sexual harassment protection
- Disability coverage
- Workers' compensation insurance
- Whistleblower protections and protection against retaliation
- Work agreements and policies in writing
Federal Domestic Worker Rights Laws
Lawmakers have introduced federal domestic workers bill of rights laws that have not yet been signed into law. If adopted, the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights will include:
- Paid sick leave for domestic workers to take care of themselves or their families
- Civil rights protections, including protections against workplace harassment and workplace violence
- Rights to meal breaks and rest breaks
- Written employment agreements and policies
- Protection against losing pay because of last-minute cancellations
Obligations for Domestic Employers
Households that have a caregiver, nanny, or housekeeper may have to be aware of new protections and requirements. Employers who qualify under their state's domestic workers bill of rights laws will have to comply with employment requirements, which may include providing a written employment agreement and providing the worker with policies on time-off, vacation time, and sick leave. Some employers may have to pay into disability insurance and workers' compensation insurance.
If you have questions about complying with domestic worker laws, talk to your employment law attorney for advice.
Filing a Claim for Domestic Worker Rights Violations
If you are a domestic worker and believe your employer is not paying you the minimum wage or violating domestic worker laws, you may be able to file a claim for back pay or enforce your labor rights. An employment law claim may help you recover benefits and damages. Find a local employment law attorney today.
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