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Seattle's Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

Posted Tuesday, September 25, 2018 by Pivotal Law Group

Are domestic workers like nannies, gardeners and housekeepers entitled to basic worker protections like breaks and minimum wages? The answer used to be no, but under Seattle’s new Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, domestic workers have new and important legal rights with which employers must comply.

On July 27th, 2018, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed Ordinance 125627, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, establishing new rights and protections for domestic workers. The Ordinance generally does three things: (1) imposes a minimum wage for domestic workers; (2) requires regular breaks for domestic workers; and (3) adds miscellaneous additional protections aimed at curbing some reported abuses of domestic workers that are common in the industry. However, the Ordinance is complex and the devil is in the details.

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights has its background in the lack of existing legal protections for domestic workers. The mayor’s office noted:

For more than 80 years, domestic workers have been exempted from federal laws that allow workers the legal right to join in union to demand better working conditions. That exclusion has historically led to the exploitation of these workers who are mostly immigrant and mostly women of color. Many domestic employees are covered by federal, state, and municipal laws on minimum wage and overtime but don’t know their rights. They fear retaliation and loss of employment for speaking out. According to the Seattle Domestic Workers Association estimates there are at least 30,000 domestic workers within city limits.

The activist organization Working Washington lauded the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights as “a groundbreaking step forward for nannies and housecleaners.”
In practice, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights imposes three important new requirements on employers of domestic workers:

1. Minimum wage. Domestic workers are now entitled to a minimum wage. Calculating the specific minimum wage is complex because the specific hourly minimum wage takes into account whether the worker receives health insurance benefits and also accounts for the size of the employer. For example, a domestic worker employed by an employer with less than 500 employees in 2018 is entitled to $14.00 per hour if they receive no health insurance. These wage amounts increase annually.
2. Rest and Meal Breaks. Domestic workers are now entitled to regular rest and meal breaks. Again, the specific rights involved depend on the details of the job. Generally, domestic workers are entitled to a 30-minute uninterrupted meal break for every 5 hours worked; the break is with pay unless the nanny is “on call” during the break. Domestic workers must also receive a 10-minute paid rest break every four hours worked, or a 10-minute unpaid uninterrupted rest break every three hours worked. In the event the worker’s duties prevent them from taking these breaks, the worker must receive additional compensation for the missed break. Domestic workers residing at the place of employment must receive an unpaid day off for every six consecutive days worked.
3. Additional Rights. The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights also aims to curb some of the abuses to which domestic workers have been subjected. Among other things, employers may not keep the domestic workers original documents or personal effects (aimed at correcting practices where, for instance, domestic workers’ immigration papers are held hostage by the employer to keep the worker from reporting abusive labor practices to the authorities).

Domestic workers whose rights are violated have the right to file a lawsuit to recover double their lost pay, attorneys’ fees, and a $5,000 penalty for violations of the new law.

The law also includes an important protection for individuals hiring domestic workers through an agency: in such a relationship, the agency and not the individual is exclusively responsible for ensuring compliance with the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

Pivotal Law Group Attorney McKean Evans advises both workers and employers regarding their legal rights. If you have questions about Seattle’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights or other employment law concerns, contact McKean for a free consultation.