Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

Today's household worker plays a big role in supporting families and the U.S. economy, yet many domestic workers still face increasingly difficult circumstances while working for some household employers. Not only do domestic workers -- including nannies, housecleaners, and elderly caretakers -- work in closed family quarters that make them susceptible to unreported cases of abuse and exploitation, they are often left without proper legal protection in the event of job loss, workplace injuries, or mistreatment.

For New York domestic workers, however, the laws are changing in their favor. In the fall of 2010, New York's Governor passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights as a measure to help remedy employment violations upon domestic workers. The new law provides comprehensive employment benefits to domestic workers, including overtime pay, paid vacation, sick time, and health insurance coverage whereas, historically, domestic workers only had limited employment rights.(Read a discussion of the federal wage laws concerning domestic worker's exception from overtime.)

While New York's Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is the first of its kind, other states (such as California and Hawaii) have passed similar employment laws protecting domestic workers.

What is a 'Domestic Worker'?

A domestic worker is someone who is employed in the domestic services field, typically a member of a household's paid staff, including nannies, housekeepers, babysitters, and elderly caretakers. Domestic workers do not typically include one-time or monthly service people (like roofing technicians or painters), but may include such regular staff as gardeners and maintenance workers in some cases.

Because domestic workers are typically members of a vulnerable class of people - often uneducated undocumented, and female - they are sometimes the subject of abuse, mistreatment, and harassment.

Many cases of abuse among domestic workers often go unreported, largely due to fear of losing their jobs or not knowing who to turn to (as well as the general feeling and knowledge that they have no true employment rights.)

New York's Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

Under New York's Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, domestic workers are entitled to the following main provisions:

Work Hours

  • 8 hours of as a legal day's work
  • Overtime pay at the rate of 1 of the regular rate of pay after 40 hours for live-out domestic workers and 44 for live-in domestic workers

Day of Rest

  • One day or rest (24 hours) for every seven days worked, or overtime pay if the domestic worker agrees to work on that day. Workers are encouraged to try and coincide the day of rest with the worker's day of worship

Paid Days Off

  • Three (3) paid days off after one year of employment, based on the regular pay rate

Workplace Protection

  • Protection against workplace discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and national origin
  • Protection against sexual harassment by employer
  • Household employers are subject to harassment complaints, and liability for damages to the domestic worker and civil penalties up to $100,000

Disability Benefits

Employer's Reactions

Not everyone was enthusiastic to New York's new Domestic Workers law. On a particular Facebook page, a parent asked "What about a mandatory breaks for moms? Or, do you only get a break if you're PAID to do it?" In addition, some believe they will now be forced to hire people with less experience, and that cost and safety may be an issue.

Tips for NY Household Employers

NY employers of domestic workers should take the following steps to ensure they are compliant with the new Domestic Workers Bill of Rights law:

  • Review your recordkeeping practices
  • Be sure you have proper documentation for time tracking, calculation of gross and net wages, and records of payments made
  • Keep all documents for at least 6 years
  • Contact the state's Insurance Fund to ensure you have disability coverage in place for your household worker
  • Keep all tax records up to date (don't get caught with the "nanny tax" - which is what happens when your nanny files for unemployment benefits upon termination of the employment relationship)

Getting a Free Claim Review

If you, or someone you love, need help understanding your domestic worker rights, you should speak with an employment lawyer in your area who handles issues affecting employees. Family household employers may wish to speak with an employer's employment lawyer in your area. Learn more now with a free claim review at no obligation.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified employment attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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