Who is a domestic worker?

A domestic worker is an individual who provides services within a private home. Domestic workers are the are the nannies/childcare providers 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.

There are around 2.2 million domestic workers in the United States and 91.5% of these workers are women, the majority of whom are immigrants and women of color.

Domestic workers play a crucial role in supporting the smooth functioning of a household by taking care of essential tasks such as caring for young children and elderly or disabled loved ones and maintaining a clean, organized living environment.

Who is an employer?

A domestic worker employer is an individual or family who hires and employs a domestic worker full-time or part-time (even once a week or once a month—any period of time counts) to perform various household tasks and services within their private home, including cleaning, cooking, and assisting with bathing, dressing, walking, toileting and eating as care for members of the household.

The employer is responsible for providing the necessary tools, resources, and compensation for the domestic worker’s work. To learn more, check out our employer information and visit our partner, Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network, online.

Are domestic workers protected by labor laws in the US?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): Enacted in 1938 during the Great Depression, this bill established labor standards and protected workers’ rights in the US. However, it excluded certain groups, including domestic workers, due to historical racial and gender inequalities. Powerful opposition from business interests, influence from Southern lawmakers, and social perceptions of domestic work contributed to their exclusion to this day. Currently, many domestic workers are covered under federal minimum wage and overtime laws. However, part-time domestic workers are still excluded from full minimum wage rights and live-in domestic workers do not have the right to overtime pay from employers that are members of the household.

Civil Rights Laws: Domestic workers are generally excluded from federal civil rights laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin because the law only applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

National Labor Relations Act (NLRA): Domestic workers are excluded under the NLRA which grants most private-sector employees the right to engage in collective bargaining and protected concerted activities to improve their working conditions.

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA): Domestic workers who are employed directly by households are not currently covered by the policies set by the Occupational Safety & Health Act, which aims to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for employees. OSHA sets standards for workplace safety and provides the right for workers to report hazardous conditions without fear of retaliation. OSHA does not specifically address the unique hazards faced by domestic workers in private homes.

It’s important to note that while some federal laws do provide limited protections to domestic workers, the specific coverage can be influenced by the size of the employer and other factors. Additionally, many states offer greater labor and employment protections than what is considered the federal floor, so the rights and protections for domestic workers can vary significantly depending on the state they work in.

What’s the difference between a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and state/municipal Bills of Rights?

The difference between a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and state or municipal-level bill of rights lies in their scope and jurisdiction.

National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights:

  • A National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is a legislative proposal that aims to establish uniform labor protections and rights for domestic workers across the entire country. It is a federal-level initiative that would apply to domestic workers working in any state or territory within the United States.
  • The National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would be enacted and enforced by the federal government and would set minimum standards for wages, working hours, overtime pay, and other labor-related matters for domestic workers nationwide.
  • The goal of a national bill of rights is to ensure consistent and comprehensive protection for domestic workers, regardless of the state they work in, and to address any potential gaps in state-level protections.

State or Municipal-Level Bill of Rights:

  • State or Municipal-level domestic workers bills of rights are legislative initiatives taken at the individual state or city level to provide specific labor protections and rights for domestic workers within that state’s or city’s jurisdiction.
  • Each state, and sometimes city, has the authority to enact its own laws and regulations related to labor and employment, including those that apply to domestic workers.
  • State-level bills of rights may vary significantly from state to state in terms of the rights provided, the scope of coverage, and the level of worker protections offered. Some states may have more comprehensive protections for domestic workers, while others may have minimal or no specific laws addressing their rights.

It’s important to note that while a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would set a federal standard for domestic workers’ rights, it would not prevent individual states from enacting more extensive protections for their domestic workforce. State laws can often be more protective than federal laws, but they cannot provide fewer rights than what is mandated at the federal level.

At NDWA, we are working to pass a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights because it would create consistent and equitable protections for domestic workers across the country and help uplift the working conditions and rights of this historically marginalized workforce. We are also working equally as hard to continue to pass state and municipal-level bills of rights so that they can be tailored to address the specific needs and challenges faced by domestic workers in each state/city, provide additional avenues for enforcement and take into account regional variations and priorities.

How do I found out more information about domestic worker rights?

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. Learn more about the state and municipal-level Bills of Rights and protections that have been passed.

You can also learn more about our campaign to pass a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights as well as our current work to pass a state bill in New Jersey and municipal-level bill Miami as part of our ongoing efforts to ensure domestic workers receive the protections they deserve at the federal and local levels. Get involved by taking the actions listed below: