Few Legal Protections for Domestic Workers

Tired woman wearing rubber gloves and holding a sponge


The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 did not include basic labor protections for household workers like nannies, caregivers and cleaners. Almost 80 years later, almost all domestic workers are still unprotected.

Domestic workers are not covered by federal minimum wage laws or the minimum wage laws of most states. Generally, these workers are not eligible for unemployment insurance or protected by antidiscrimination or workers’ compensation laws.

A 2012 survey found that 23 percent of domestic workers made less than the minimum wage ($7.25 an hour). Among live-in workers, 67 percent earned less than minimum wage. Participants in this survey, as in the domestic worker population, were nearly all women, from 71 countries.


One State Offers Protections

New York state is the only state with protections for domestic workers, granted in the 2010 Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

The bill establishes a legal workday of eight hours and a workweek of 40 hours, or 44 hours for live-in workers. It requires that employers pay minimum wages, time-and-a-half for overtime work and grant at least three paid vacation days a year after one year of work. It allows temporary disability benefits for full-time home workers, and provides redress for workplace sexual harassment and discrimination.

A similar bill was passed by the California legislature in 2012, but vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Similar laws are under consideration in Massachusetts, Illinois and Hawaii.


Legal Immigration Status Required

It is unlawful to employ a person who cannot legally work in the United States. When you hire a household employee, you and the employee must each complete part of the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. You must verify that the employee is either a U.S. citizen or an alien who can legally work in this country. You must keep Form I-9 with your other employment records.

Violation of the law regarding illegal employment can result in both civil and criminal penalties.


Taxes Must Be Paid

If a household worker is your employee, rather than a contract worker, you must pay taxes, depending on the total wages earned by the worker. These include Social Security, Medicare and federal income taxes. In some states, you must pay unemployment tax or disability insurance tax. Wages paid to a domestic worker are taxable income to that worker.

If your employee will be driving your car, you should verify that he or she has automobile liability insurance.

The laws surrounding employment of domestic workers are complicated, and the facts of each case are unique. The best course of action is to consult an immigration or employment attorney about the laws in your state and to get advice on your particular situation.

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