DWBR broadens Protections to Domestic Workers in Massachusetts
After New York, California and Hawaii, Massachusetts becomes the fourth state to extend employment protections particularly to domestic workers. Domestic workers have usually have been viewed as outside of the traditional workforce, largely because they are often immigrants, doing the work historically done by housewives and servants. As a result of the lack of state and federal regulation, employers often take advantage thereby creating the dire need of protection to these domestic workers.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed the Massachusetts Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (DWBR) on July 2, 2014. It is a comprehensive bill for improving conditions in the domestic work industry, providing clear guidelines for both employers and workers. It provides domestic workers with safe and dignified work environments and employers with clear guidelines on their responsibilities that will bring domestic workers out of the shadows. This law becomes effective April 1, 2015.
The DWBR defines a “domestic worker” as an individual “paid by an employer to perform work of a domestic nature within a household,” including (but not limited to) house cleaning, home management, nanny services, caring for sick or elderly individuals, laundering, cooking, and home companion services. However, the statute excludes personal care attendants and babysitters “whose vocation is not childcare,” as well as individuals who perform domestic work “on a casual, intermittent and irregular basis.”
DWBR further states an “employer” includes anyone who “employs a domestic worker to work within a household whether or not the person has an ownership interest in the household.” Importantly, the statute excludes senior citizens and disabled individuals to whom personal care attendants provide services. Staffing agencies are also excluded, as are placement agencies licensed under M.G.L. Ch. 140 (pertaining to inn keeping).
Few of the several features of the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (DWBR) are –
- Under the DWBR, domestic workers who work at least 40 weeks during a calendar year must be given rest periods of at least 24 consecutive hours each calendar week and at least 48 consecutive hours each calendar month. However, a domestic worker may agree to waive these limitations, so long as the agreement is in writing and the worker is paid overtime for the waived rest time.
- The DWBR also addresses meal, rest, and sleeping periods for domestic workers who reside in their employers’ households. Under the statute, if a live-in domestic worker is required to be on duty for a period of 24 consecutive hours or more, all meal, rest and sleeping periods constitute paid working time, unless the parties have previously entered into a written agreement providing otherwise.
- Right to protection against trafficking through civil enforcement by Advocate General. Further explaining that an Employer cannot engage in sex trafficking of domestic workers or labor trafficking, called “forced services”. And where the Forced services includes threatening serious harm, physically restraining an individual, destroying, hiding or taking any immigration documents, engaging in extortion, or causing or threatening to cause financial harm.
- Domestic workers have right to a written employment agreement if Domestic Worker works 16 hours or more per week. Agreement may include- Rate of pay, including overtime; Working hours (including meal breaks and other time off); Whether employer provides benefits – paid or unpaid — days of rest, sick days, holidays, health insurance, severance, transportation costs, etc.; responsibilities of the job; process for addressing grievances and additional pay for additional duties; right to collect workers compensation and any other rights or benefits provided to the Domestic Worker.
- Right to notice/lodging/severance before termination of live-in Domestic Worker without cause and a written notice and at least 30 days of lodging either on-site or in comparable off-site conditions or severance pay equivalent to average earnings for 2 weeks but no right to notice or severance pay if employer makes good faith allegation in writing of abuse, neglect or other harmful conduct towards employer, employer’s family, or individuals residing in employer’s home.
- Going a step further the new law provides right to take sexual harassment and other harassment claim to Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination (MCAD). Also giving right to privacy which says that an Employer cannot restrict, interfere with or monitor domestic worker’s private communication