Say you’re a single mother with two children. You have a job that requires you to leave the house at 8 a.m. It’s Friday, your boss asks you to work until 7 p.m., and the babysitter has been at your house every day this week.
Or you’ve hired a caretaker, who’s with your ailing elderly father in his home three days a week. Your work schedule changes, your father’s condition worsens, and now you need the service seven days this week.
What would the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, currently awaiting a signature decision by Gov. Jerry Brown, actually mean to you?
The answer depends, according to the bill’s authors, on a variety of possibilities—including what provisions the state Department of Industrial Relations decides to impose if the bill becomes law. Should California end up following the guidelines used for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York, the only other state in the country to adopt such a law, then private employers of full-time babysitters and caretakers will need to follow some new rules.
The idea behind the California domestic workers law is to give housekeepers, nannies and caregivers who work in private homes many of the same rights as other kinds of workers. Although exactly what that means would depend on not-yet-established rules, it could require private employers to allow their domestic help regular breaks, including time to eat lunch; and for live-in help, a schedule that includes eight hours of uninterrupted rest.
Under the law, once a caregiver completes 40 hours of work, any time worked beyond that might constitute overtime, for example—meaning the employee could be entitled to time-and-a-half for each additional hour. So if that babysitter in your home is earning $10 per hour, staying on at your home until 7 p.m. might earn her $15 for each of those extra hours instead.
In the case of your ailing father, the schedule change means the caregiver would be working on day seven. In this instance, under the domestic workers law, the caregiver might be entitled to one full day of overtime pay. Under the current provisions of the California labor code, an employee who works more than six days a week is supposed to earn double-time pay for the extra day. So for that extra eight-hour day, at a regular wage of $10 an hour, you might owe that caregiver not $80, but $160.
And what about rest and meal breaks? These are now defined, under the bill, to mean time domestic employees have time away from the children or elders they are caring for, in order to eat or take other necessary personal time. Any services required during this break would likely be considered paid time. If the employee is not paid, employers face the possibility of fines from the labor commission, or a lawsuit, should the caregiver decide to file a claim.
In other words, even if the bill is signed into law, nobody would expect your babysitter to abandon your child during her lunch break. But you would probably need to be sure to pay her for that hour.
The original version of the bill applied certain existing state labor guidelines to domestic workers, who are currently exempt from such guidelines. The version now before Brown does not contain such a request. If he signs the bill, it will be left to the Department of Industrial Relations to specify when overtime goes into effect and what the pay rate will be, said a spokesperson for Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco.
California’s Department of Industrial Relations would have until January 2014 to incorporate these into a new law, Ammiano’s spokesperson said. Caregivers who work in people’s homes through the state agency called In-Home Supportive Services are not covered under the language of the bill now before Brown.
In addition to provisions for overtime, paid time off and breaks, an employer might be required to write out in advance the details of a worker’s sick leave, vacation, personal leave and holidays. The employer might also be responsible for unemployment insurance taxes for employees paid $500 or more for work in or around the employer’s home.
“The change in the labor law could affect approximately 200,000 domestic workers in California,” said Katie Joaquin, a representative of the Filipino Advocates for Justice Organization and the California Domestic Workers Coalition, co-authors of the bill. “We are taking the existing laws on the books, and removing the exclusions,” Joaquin said.