The Trend Toward Protection for Domestic Workers

The Trend Toward Protection for Domestic Workers

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires most workers to earn at least minimum wage, and for non-exempt workers to earn overtime pay. Some workers have been completely exempt from protection under this law, however. Until 1974 there was no set limit on hours or minimum pay for live-in workers such as housekeepers or nannies. But even after they were finally included in the law, live-in workers were still exempt from overtime, and companions for the elderly or the ill were not covered by the law at all.

New York has passed a law expanding the rights of domestic workers, entitling them to overtime after 44 hours for a live-in worker, after 40 hours for others, and mandating one day off per week. The Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights also requires vacation time after a year of service, and extends the sexual harassment law to live-in employees. (Under federal law, the employer would not be liable in any event unless he or she had 15 full-time employees.)

Other states may follow New York’s lead, as news reports of abusive conditions for servants proliferate. Once an employee accepts both the domestic duties and a place to stay, the influence from the outside world can shrink.

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