Do Domestic Workers Have Employee Rights?

Published Aug. 5, 2013

Do Domestic Workers Have Employee Rights?

Domestic workers perform a variety of household services, including childcare, cooking, housekeeping, gardening, and even healthcare services for the aged and infirm.

However, rights for domestic workers vary wildly for the estimated 52.6 million domestic workers around the world. According to the International Labour Organization, only 10 percent of all domestic workers are protected by legislated employee rights.

In the U.S., some domestic workers are protected under the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Congress extended FLSA coverage to domestic service workers in 1974, amending the law to apply to employees performing services of a household nature in or around a private home.

Which Domestic Workers are Covered by the FLSA?

  • Persons employed in domestic service in households are covered by the FLSA
  • Nurses, certified nurse aides, home healthcare aides, and other individuals providing home healthcare services fall within the term “domestic service employment”
  • Companions to the elderly who spend more than 20 percent of their time performing general household work
  • Nannies who care for minor children, where the children are not physically or mentally infirm

U.S. Home Healthcare Workers in the Spotlight

Recent legislation has focused on improving conditions for workers specifically employed in home healthcare.

Healthcare workers who provide home health care services may be eligible for minimum wage and/or overtime premium pay depending upon the type of services they provide.

For example, employees providing “companionship services” are not eligible for minimum wage or overtime pay.

Different Rights in Different States

New York enacted the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in November 2010. That act contains more protections to domestic workers than the FLSA, including clarifications regarding rest periods and provisions for domestic workers who suffer sexual or racial harassment.

In California, however, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed similar legislation in October 2012. With 200,000 domestic workers in California, workers are considered especially vulnerable to inequitable treatment, because they are a largely immigrant and female workforce.

This Employment Law News blog is intended for market awareness only, it is not to be used for legal advice or counsel.

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