Understanding the Need for a Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights
By Alvaro Lizarraga, Esq.
Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP
When you go to work you expect to be treated with respect, dignity and fairness. You also expect that your health, safety and well-being will be of the utmost concern to your employer. These are inherent rights every worker should be afforded. Unfortunately, these rights are often not extended to domestic workers.
These workers are usually immigrant women whose duties include, but are not limited to, cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, caring for children, the sick and the elderly, and looking after pets. Many of these workers live in the homes of the family for which they work.
Work expectations and wages are usually settled by a simple verbal agreement. Those who employ domestic workers usually don’t consider themselves “employers,” and are often under the false belief that they do not have a responsibility to comply with labor protection laws that afford a worker decent wages, a safe and healthy workplace, workers’compensation and other benefits.
Domestic workers are among the most isolated and vulnerable workforce in the state. The unique nature of their work requires protections to prevent abuse and mistreatment from happening behind closed doors.
This is precisely why we at Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP applaud the efforts of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA). This grassroots organization founded in 2007 is the leading voice for the millions of domestic workers in the United States.
The NDWA helps domestic workers organize and seek changes at the highest levels of government. Many state legislators, including some in California, are listening to these workers, and agree that changes need to be made to improve their working conditions.
Domestic work is a decent and noble profession, and those who perform these duties should be treated with dignity and fairness. We understand that not everyone who hires domestic workers cuts corners when it comes to their employees’ health and welfare. But the abuse—financial, verbal, physical…—is prevalent enough to warrant the efforts of the NDWA.
Currently, with the support of the NDWA, California has introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 889, the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, which seeks to provide domestic workers with all of the rights provided to all California workers under Wage Order 15.
If the bill is passed into law, domestic workers would be entitled to meals and rest breaks, overtime pay and reporting time pay. In addition, AB 889 would remove the exclusion of domestic workers from other rights provided to California workers, such as access to workers’ compensation in the event they sustain an injury performing their job. AB 889 would eliminate the current requirement that domestic workers must work 52 hours and earn more than $100 in the previous 90 days to be eligible for workers’ compensation coverage, which is particularly vital due to the often times physically grueling work they do.
Moreover, the bill would provide the worker with industry-specific protections and standards, such as uninterrupted sleep and the use of kitchen facilities to those workers who live-in or work 24-hour shifts.
If a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is passed in California, domestic workers would finally have basic labor protections and workplace rights. Obviously, there is more to be done to correct these injustices, but we have to start somewhere and this bill is a great stepping stone toward justice.