What is a domestic workers bill of rights?
A Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is a piece of legislation that guarantees basic labor rights and protections in the workplace that domestic workers — nannies, housecleaners, and home care workers — are entitled to.
Domestic workers have organized to fight for a passage of Domestic Workers Bills of Rights to gain inclusion in existing workplace laws and provide greater protections to ensure that domestic workers are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. Domestic Workers Bill of Rights can be won at the local, state and federal levels. Through these bills, domestic workers have gained inclusion in minimum wage and overtime protections, anti-discrimination and harassment protections and other critical rights. Currently domestic workers have won bills of rights in 10 states, 2 major cities, and the District of Columbia.
Domestic workers do the work most precious to us: caring for our homes and loved ones so we can go to work and go about our everyday lives with peace of mind.
Every day, around 2.2 million domestic workers do the essential work of taking care of our families and homes. They are the nannies that nurture and raise our children, the housecleaners that bring order to our homes, and the direct care workers that ensure our loved ones, who are aging or living with disabilities, receive the assistance they need to live with dignity and independence in their homes. Yet, despite their essential contributions, domestic workers are among the most undervalued workforce and vulnerable members of our society.
Most domestic workers are women, many of whom are immigrants and women of color, and they are 3 times more likely to live in poverty than other workers. They often work long hours without access to basic benefits like healthcare, paid sick leave, or time off. Their unique workplaces – inside our homes – mean that their struggles often go unnoticed by the public.
Domestic Workers Bill of Rights - Table of Contents
Why do we need a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights?
During the 1930s, landmark New Deal legislation introduced basic workplace rights in the U.S., but domestic and farm workers were excluded due to a compromise with Southern legislators. The exclusion of domestic workers from workplace laws passed in subsequent years became the norm, and these racist and sexist exclusions continue to exist in local, state and federal laws in the U.S.
This has led to domestic workers being among the most vulnerable and exploited workers in the labor force. They often face long work hours, low pay, sudden job loss, sexual harassment, and physical or verbal abuse.
Despite being one of the fastest growing workforces in the nation, nannies, housecleaners and home care workers work in isolation, face challenges in negotiating for better working conditions, and have little to no recourse or ability to enforce the basic rights they have when violated.
A 2021 National Domestic Workers Alliance survey of domestic workers reported:
- Only 16% of domestic workers have a written agreement with their employer.
- Over 1/3 of domestic workers do not get meal and rest breaks and of those that do, only 34% of those who get meal and rest breaks are paid for those breaks.
- 81% of domestic workers receive no pay if their employer cancels on them with less than three-days notice, and 76% receive no pay if their employer cancels on them after they show up for work.
- 23% of domestic workers do not feel safe at work.
The dire circumstances faced by domestic workers underscore the urgent need for extending rights and protections in the domestic work industry. The National Domestic Workers Alliance organizes domestic workers to raise standards in the industry and win the rights, respect and recognition they deserve.
What rights are included in a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights?
The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights typically includes provisions that guarantee domestic workers basic rights like minimum wage, overtime pay, rest breaks, and safe working conditions. It may also include protections against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. In some cases, the bill may also provide for paid sick leave, and other benefits.
Wage and Overtime Protections
Domestic workers should be at least paid the minimum wage, and they should be entitled to overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours in a week.
Paid Time Off
Domestic workers should have access to paid sick leave, paid family leave, disability-related leave, vacation time, and other forms of paid time off.
Safe Working Conditions
Domestic workers should be provided with a safe and healthy workplace where they are protected from hazards.
Protection From Discrimination and Harassment
Domestic workers should be protected from discrimination and harassment based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other protected category.
Protection From Retaliation
Domestic workers should be protected from retaliation by their employers if they speak out about workplace issues or advocate for their rights.
Bills of Rights create real material change for domestic workers. While 10 states, 2 major cities, and the District of Columbia have passed Domestic Workers Bills of Rights, domestic workers continue to be excluded from some federal rights and protections.
History of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights
In the early part of the 20th century, during the New Deal era, lawmakers from Southern states intentionally prevented domestic workers from being included in federal labor laws because the majority of domestic workers were African-American. Domestic workers were left without any protections or workplace standards.
To this day, the legacy of slavery continues to shape domestic work. Domestic workers continue to have limited legal protections under civil rights laws, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), or the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and their work isn’t recognized or respected as work.
In the 21st century, the National Domestic Workers Alliance and our affiliated partner organizations have ramped up efforts to secure basic labor protections for domestic workers. In 2010, the state of New York passed the first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which laid the foundation for more statewide bills and municipal bills of labor protections. Today, 10 states, 2 major cities, and the District of Columbia have passed domestic workers bills of rights and protections.
States with Protected Rights
New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (2010)
The New York Domestic Workers State Bill of Rights (Bill Number: NY A1470B/S2311E) was passed in 2010 and established overtime pay, rest breaks, and other basic labor protections for domestic workers in the state.
California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (2013/2016)
The California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (Bill Numbers: CA AB 241 & SB 1015) was passed in 2013 and reauthorized in 2016. It provides overtime pay for domestic workers who work more than 9 hours a day or 45 hours a week.
Hawaii Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (2013)
The Hawaii Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (Bill Number: HI SB535 SD1) was passed in 2013. It provides all domestic workers with protections against wage theft, right to earn minimum wage and overtime pay for all hours over forty in a week, and protection against discrimination on the job.
Massachusetts Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (2014)
The Massachusetts Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (Bill Number: MA S.2132) was passed in 2014. It ensures domestic workers have the same rights as other workers to minimum wage, overtime, and other wage and hour protections. There are also special rules for domestic workers relating to record-keeping, rest time, charges for food and lodging, and conditions for live-in domestic workers. Every domestic worker must receive a notice of their employment rights under state and federal law from their employer and certain domestic workers have a written contract.
Connecticut Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (2015)
The Connecticut Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (Bill Number: CT SB 446) was passed in 2015.
Oregon Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (2015)
The Oregon Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (Bill Number: OR SB 552) was passed in 2015. It provides domestic workers with protections including overtime pay, 24 consecutive hours off each work week, annual paid leave, and protection against harassment.
Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (2016)
The Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (Bill Number: ILL HB1288) was passed in 2016. It extends labor protections to domestic workers, including the right to minimum wage, overtime pay, rest periods, provides a weekly day of rest, and protection against discrimination and harassment.
Nevada Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (2017)
The Nevada Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (Bill Number: NV SB 232) was passed in 2017. It guarantees domestic workers basic labor protections, including minimum wage, overtime pay, days off, and the right to a written agreement.
New Mexico Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (2019)
The New Mexico Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (Bill Number: NM SB85 Domestic Service in Minimum Wage Act) was passed in 2019. It guarantees domestic workers in the state key labor protections, including minimum wage, overtime pay, rest breaks, and protection against discrimination and retaliation.
Virginia Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (2021)
The Virginia Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (Bill Number: VA HB 2032) was passed in 2019 and 2020. It ensures that domestic workers in the state receive crucial labor protections, including minimum wage,protection against discrimination and harassment, privacy protections for live-in domestic workers, and the right to a healthy and safe workplace.
Cities with Protected Rights
Seattle Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (2018)
The Seattle Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (Bill Number: CB 119286 / Ordinance 125627) was passed in 2018. It ensures domestic workers in the city receive protections such as minimum wage, rest breaks, written agreements and protection from retaliation, and it established the first Domestic Workers Standards Board.
Philadelphia Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (2020)
The Philadelphia Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (Bill Number: CHAPTER 9-4500) was passed in 2020. It provides domestic workers in the city with important labor protections, meal and rest breaks, paid time off, advance notice of termination, protection from discrimination and harassment, and the right to a written employment contract.
The DC Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was passed in 2022. It provides for full coverage of domestic workers for discrimination and harassment protections under human rights law, provides grants for community groups to perform outreach and education on domestic workers rights including guides on protections for health and safety. The bill also mandates a written agreement and provides that the Department of Employment Services publish a template contract.
Despite winning Domestic Workers Bills of Rights at the state and city level, federal recognition and comprehensive protection for this workforce is long overdue. That’s why we are working with Senators Kristen Gillibrand and Ben Ray Luján and Representative Pramila Jayapal to introduce the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which will establish rights for millions of home care workers, nannies and housecleaners in the U.S.
The New Jersey Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would include basic legal rights for New Jersey’s 50,000 domestic workers, many of whom are experiencing wage theft, denial of breaks, and lack of sick leave.
International Domestic Workers Rights
In 2011, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted the Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189) and Recommendation (No. 201) which established global labor standards for domestic workers. The instruments are a strong recognition of the economic and social value of domestic work and a call for action to address the existing exclusions of domestic workers from labor and social protections across the world.
How can you get involved?
A Domestic Workers Bill of Rights represents an important step towards recognizing the contributions of domestic workers and ensuring that they are treated fairly and with dignity in the workplace.
We’re ramping up our campaign to pass a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights as well as working on state and municipal-level Bill of Rights in New Jersey and Miami as part of our ongoing efforts to ensure domestic workers receive the protections they deserve at the federal and local levels.
Take Action Now