Task Force Drafts Domestic Worker Bill of Rights

A proposed domestic worker bill of rights does not include mandated overtime pay, but it covers a slew of other employee protections-regarding minimum wage requirements, anti-discrimination/harassment, and retaliation, among other issues-that home healthcare professionals, nannies, and cleaning personnel have been denied or struggle to have enforced.

The tentative legislation has been put forward by The Domestic Worker Task Force, and now it is up to the state legislature. In February, the Human Services Committee of the New Haven Board of Alders threw its support behind the Domestic Worker Task Force, joining its call for a domestic worker bill of rights.

Domestic workers-along with employees of the agricultural industry-were left out of the historic New Deal protections signed into law by FDR. Those included the Fair Labor Standards Act, which mandated overtime payment. Domestic workers defined as “companions”-or, live-in home care assistants-were left out of that legislation until two years ago, when the President Barack Obama moved to expand it. A U.S. District judge blocked that initiative this year-it was supposed to take effect in 2015-so they are still still without that protection.

In Connecticut, they’ll have to wait as well-Section 2 of the proposal states that overtime protections will not expand to those employed in a  “companionship” capacity. That’s one component that Natalicia Tracy, Executive Director of the Brazilian Immigrant Center-which worked on the bill-would have liked to have seen included.

The Task Force-which worked with legislators and Department of Labor personnel in drafting the proposal-were advised against adding an overtime provision because of the fact that that is currently on hold at the federal level, according to Tracy.

“[They said] ‘this isn’t the right time,” she said. “‘It might derail the your entire bill’.”

Others were paid sick leave-the current version of the bill calls for the right to “earn” unpaid leave-and worker’s compensation, she said.

“There are a lot of things,” Tracy said over the phone. “Because of the lack of regulations, they’re [domestic workers] really excluded from a lot of basic rights.”

Among these are protections against discriminatory workplace practices-limited by Connecticut regulations to employers with at least 3 employees. The bill proposes an exception to this rule in order to include single employees-a common set up for domestic workers.

Section 7 of the proposal prohibits employees from being forced to work a full, non-stop 7-day week, although the provision allows domestic workers the chance to opt out by signing an agreement to receive time and a half compensation for the seventh day.

The bill also calls for mandated 31-day notice prior to the termination of live-in workers, who risk becoming homeless. The employer would have the option of substituting that with 31 days’ pay. Workers who are laid off would receive 7 days notice or compensation equivalent to a week of work, and both protections would not apply to situations involving “willful” employee misconduct.

The bill has moved out of the Labor Committee and now sits with the Judiciary Committee. If it clears that hurdle, it will move on to the Senate floor.

 

 

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