Domestic Worker Rights: Nannies, Babysitters, and Daycare Providers

By Peter Levine posted in Employment Law on August 29th, 2013

About one in five children are in the care of domestic workers

About one in five children are in the care of domestic workers such as nannies, babysitters or in-home daycare providers. Because the government has failed to provide and subsidize quality childcare, families often struggle to find the money for in-home care, leaving nannies vulnerable because they often miss out on fair wages, decent hours, and benefits. In a recent survey, the largest group of nannies, about 11 percent, reported earning $600 per week, which amounts to $31,200 a year. While hourly wages fluctuate by location, in many major cities that isn’t enough to live on.

Fair Labor Standards Act leaves many domestic workers unprotected

A 1974 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act extended coverage to domestic workers, but an overly broad reading of its exemptions has left many domestic workers unprotected. As a result, most have missed out on minimum wages, overtime pay, benefits, and protection from discrimination. The majority of families who employee nannies, although they mean well, don’t often pay into Social Security, provide any paid sick leave or vacation time, or offer overtime pay for extra hours worked. Without regulations, nannies are at their employers’ whim, without anywhere to turn in the event of harassment or discrimination. “Because there’s no industry standard, there’s no guideline for a conversation.” says Jennileen Joseph, a nanny and founder of a nonprofit for domestic workers called Massachusetts Association of Professional Nannies.

First law requiring time-and-a-half for overtime

But that may begin to change. New York just passed the first law requiring time-and-a-half for overtime, at least three vacation days a year and an eight-hour workday and forty-hour workweek for domestic workers. It also grants temporary disability benefits and provides redress for harassment and discrimination. Four other states-California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Colorado-are considering similar bills.

New York’s is a momentous victory for domestic workers, but it also has some parents concerned. While the New York bill doesn’t establish a per-hour minimum wage above the state’s minimum, families will be paying far more to keep nannies working past the forty-hour workweek if they need extra care. There will be no government subsidies for these extra costs, even though they are crucial to valuing the work nannies do. And some feel the government should be at least partially responsible for the high costs of paying domestic workers, especially as those costs increase to make the work up to par with living standards.

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