On July 1, 2019, two new ordinances will go into effect in Seattle, Washington, giving domestic workers labor rights and protections traditionally reserved for mainstream employees. The Domestic Workers Ordinance (a.k.a. “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights”) gives minimum wage, meal and rest break rights to domestic workers. The other ordinance extends the protections of the City’s Fair Employment Practices law to domestic workers. Both ordinances are intended to protect the estimated 33,000 domestic workers employed in the Seattle area.
In passing the domestic worker ordinances, the City took into account the challenges presented by the domestic employment relationship. Employment of domestic workers is seen as a “gray” economy. Most often, the work is performed in or about private homes where workers perform services in isolation, away from other workers. Employment arrangements are often informal. Domestic workers may not know they have rights in the workplace or whom to contact if their rights are violated. Many household employers are unaware of their responsibilities when they hire a domestic worker. The domestic worker ordinances establish domestic worker rights and include outreach measures to increase awareness of labor standards that apply to this industry.
Who is a Domestic Worker Under the Law?
The term “domestic workers” is expansive. The term applies to individuals paid to provide domestic services to an individual or household in or about a private home as a nanny, house cleaner, home care worker, gardener, cook, or household manager. The term includes hourly and salaried employees, independent contractors, full-time and part-time workers, and temporary workers. The ordinances do not cover the following:
- Individuals who work on a casual basis;
- Individuals in a family relationship with the hiring entity; or
- Home care workers paid through public funds.
Domestic Workers Bill of Rights
The Domestic Workers Ordinance establishes the following rights for domestic workers:
- Payment of Seattle’s minimum wage
Domestic workers in Seattle have the right to be paid at least Seattle’s Minimum Wage rate. Currently, a worker who works for a small employer and who does not receive medical benefits must be paid a minimum wage of $15.00 per hour.
- Provision of meal periods and rest breaks
- Domestic workers have the right to a 30-minute, uninterrupted meal period when they work for more than five consecutive hours for the same hiring entity.
- Domestic workers must be allowed a paid 10-minute, uninterrupted rest break for each four consecutive hours of work for the same hiring entity.
- If a domestic worker’s work responsibilities make it impossible or infeasible to take a meal period or rest break, the hiring entity must provide additional compensation for the missed meal period or rest break.
- Provision of a day of rest (Live-in workers only)
Live-in workers are entitled to an unpaid 24-hour period of consecutive rest after working more than six consecutive days for the same hiring entity.
- Retention of documents
Hiring entities may not keep a domestic worker’s original documents or other personal effects (e.g. passport).
Domestic Workers Standards Board
The Domestic Workers Ordinance also provides for the creation of the Domestic Workers Standards Board which will operate as a forum for hiring entities, domestic workers, worker organizations, and the public to share experiences and make recommendations to the City to better meet the needs of domestic workers and hiring entities. Topics will include training, wage standards, access to paid sick and family leave, workers’ compensation, and outreach and enforcement strategies.
Fair Employment Practices Law
The second ordinance Seattle passed broadens coverage of the City’s law against unfair employment practices to cover domestic workers and hiring entities. Given the isolated nature of the work environment, domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to inappropriate behavior, including sexual harassment. Domestic workers, many of whom are women, immigrants and people of color, who experience discrimination may not know how to seek recourse or may be afraid to speak out or complain. The law will now protect domestic workers from discrimination or harassment based on a protected class and protect them from retaliation for filing a complaint.
Model Notice of Rights
The Seattle Office of Labor Standards is expected to develop a model notice of rights and pay information that hiring entities may provide to domestic workers. The Office has also developed a Q&A fact sheet about domestic workers rights. For more information, visit Seattle’s Domestic Workers web page here.