New York Expected to Extend Protections to Domestic Workers

This is great news. The bill that New York is considering also protects workers who are undocumented, and requires a series of basic workplace protections:

The State Senate this week passed a bill that would require paid holidays, sick days and vacation days for domestic workers, along with overtime wages. It would require 14 days’ notice, or termination pay, before firing a domestic worker.

The Assembly passed a similar measure last year, and lawmakers expect that the two versions will be reconciled and that Gov. David A. Paterson will sign what they say would be the nation’s first such protections for domestic workers. It would affect an estimated 200,000 workers in the metropolitan area: citizens, legal immigrants and those here illegally as well.

This is long overdue, and it’s a shame that New York is the first state to pass legislation like this (assuming it’s signed, which it looks like it will be). There is some question as to whether it will actually help undocumented workers, who may be hesitant to report violations, but it is a step in the right direction. And other types of workers in New York — deliverymen, grocery store employees — have successfully challenged workplace violations, even where some of the individuals were not here legally.

The bill will also give workers more negotiating power, and will help people who hire domestic workers to parse out what is fair and what isn’t.

But for nannies and parents alike, the legislation, if enacted, could well create a kind of baseline for negotiations over pay, hours and benefits. Now, the dealings typically leave both sides unsure of what is fair, and in the end, employers sometimes feeling guilty and employees feeling shortchanged.

“We are really looking toward healing the divide between employee and employee,” said Sara Fields, program director at the advocacy group Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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7 Responses to New York Expected to Extend Protections to Domestic Workers

  1. Ashley says:

    This is great news!

    “The bill will also give workers more negotiating power, and will help people who hire domestic workers to parse out what is fair and what isn’t.”

    I like to hear that.

  2. Sailorman says:

    Text of the bill, from http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/api/1.0/html/bill/S2311C:

    Section 696(1) of the new article 19-C would provide that a domestic worker’s work day is eight hours and that overtime hours as performed by agreement between the employee and employer will be paid at one and a half times the worker’s normal hourly rate.

    This matches normal overtime pay.

    Section 696(2) would provide for one day of rest every calendar week. The day off may be voluntarily waived by the worker, but the pay for that day would be at the overtime rate.

    This is similar to “sunday overtime” but reflects the fact that domestic workers often work weekends.

    Section 696(3) would provide for the following days as paid holidays: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Labor Day and Christmas Day. Holiday days off may be voluntarily waived by the worker, but the pay for that day would be at the overtime rate.

    As above

    Section 696(3) would also provide that full time workers (working at least forty hours per week) are entitled to at least seven paid sick days and five paid vacation days (with thirty days notice) each year. Workers working between twenty and forty hours a week are entitled to at least four paid sick days and three paid vacation days (again with thirty days notice).

    This is somewhat helpful, but frankly most people don’t work 0 hours per week.

    This may not be as big a benefit as it sounds. I predict that there will rapidly be a drop in hiring full time people. Many private individuals will cut back their help to 35 hours in an effort to escape this clause.

    Section 696(4) would provide for fourteen days written notice of termination. If the employer fails to give such adequate notice, the worker can receive back pay and the value of the cost of any benefits to which the employee would have been entitled. However, employers would not face any liability if 1) the employee was convicted of theft or destruction of property; or 2) if the employer acted upon a good faith and reasonable belief that the employee had committed assault, neglect or abuse in the workplace.

    I have to say, i hate this. Maybe it’s fine for someone who is mowing a lawn. But for childcare (one of the most common forms of domestic help) there are a lot of things which people can do that don’t equate to “assault, neglect, or abuse” but which make it crystal clear that the person is not taking good care of your kids. Under the law, you can’t fire those people unless you pay them severance. I think that is wrong.

    Yes, i realize that it also prevents firing abuses. but the tradeoff is still a bad one IMO.

    Section 697 would set out potential remedies. 697 (1) would provide that an employer who violates this article is subject to the criminal penalties set out in Labor Law sections 198-a and 663. (2) would provide for civil actions; workers can sue for the underpayment of any wages and the value of benefits as well as reasonable attorney’s fees. If the violation is determined to be willful, liquidated damages of 25% of the amount owed are assessed. Also, 697(2) (b) would give the Labor commissioner or the Attorney General the ability to bring such an action on behalf of a worker.

    Standard labor language.

    Section 3 of the bill would include domestic workers and their employers under the coverage of the New York state Human Rights Law.
    Section 4 would include domestic workers under Labor Law Section 160’s definition of a day’s work as eight hours. Section 5 would include employers who violate this article under Labor Law Section 218. Labor Law 218 provides that the Labor Commissioner may issue an order to violating employers and may direct payment of wages, benefits or wage supplements; if the employer acted willfully or egregiously, or if the employer had a prior violation, the commissioner’s order can include a civil penalty of double the amount due. Relatedly, Section 6 would include this article under the interest and filing of an order as judgment provisions applicable to Labor Law 218.

    Self explanatory

    Section 7 would include domestic workers under the definition of employee for purposes of the New York State minimum wage law (though domestic workers are already covered under the Federal minimum wage law).

    This may be a big change–what’s NY’s minimum wage, and is it higher than federal?

  3. Bitter Scribe says:

    And there’s a side benefit: Liberal politicians won’t get caught stiffing their nannies or cheating on their payroll taxes.

    (I’m sure both sides do it, but it seems like liberals are the only ones who get caught. Why is that?)

  4. Ghigau says:

    Bitter Scribe, it’s clear we’re not rummaging through enough curbside trash cans.

  5. beach7 says:

    In real world of employment good communications with the employer is essential for the health of any business. For the most part, however, it will continue to provide substantive labor law
    and human resources content, as well as the attempt to draw employment lessons from current events and popular culture of the people.

  6. hana says:

    New York is have a great and a high minimum wage in the land.That’s why its more important to protect domestic workers.

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