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Does your housekeeper need a break?

A domestic worker and her employer.
A domestic worker and her employer.
California Domestic Workers Coalition

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If the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights, or AB 889, passes, all domestic workers in California will be legally mandated to receive meal and rest breaks, overtime pay and workers compensation. Workers will also be mandated to be allowed at least eight uninterrupted hours of sleep, use of kitchen facilities and pay stubs that record the time they worked and the amount they were paid.

Despite support from many domestic workers, the bill has garnered a vocal opposition. Opponents say the government doesn't belong in the relationship between a caregiver and their employer and that the bill won't accomplish what it's set out to do.

The bill’s author, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, and sponsor, the California Domestic Workers Coalition, say that domestic workers have historically been excluded from labor laws that have protected other California workers. They argue that the measure is especially needed because domestic workers, which includes housekeepers, nannies and home health aides are isolated and inside homes, a reality, they say, that makes them vulnerable to abuse.

Marci Seville helped to draft the bill and teaches law at the Golden Gate University School of Law. She's also the director of Women's Employment Rights Clinic and calls the abuses of domestic workers “frequent and far-reaching.” She told KPCC's Patt Morrison Thursday that the offenses range from not being paid overtime to severe sleep deprivation.

Seville says the bill would give rights to domestic workers that are afforded to other workers in California. “Just like every other area of organized work, there need to be some fundamental guidelines in place,” she said.

The bill, which will be taken back up in the state legislature in January, stipulates a 30-minute meal break for domestic workers after five hours of work and 10-minute rest breaks after four hours of work. Any domestic worker who works more than five hours would have a right to cook their own food, a provision the coalition says is important because domestic workers often eat different foods than their employer.

The public has voiced concerns over who would watch children or others receiving care during these breaks. Seville says a break doesn't have to mean leaving the work site, but rather insurance that the caregiver can sit down and catch their breath—not abandon those under their care.

Seville also urged the public to remember that "regulation of household employment is nothing new. There have been long-standing requirements,” she said. “It's just that there are inequities in it.”

Opponents, such as the California Association for Health Services at Home (CAHSAH), say that measures such as overtime pay will raise the cost of in-home care for elderly and disabled persons so much so that they won’t be able to afford the help they need. They also say the mandate to have eight hours uninterrupted sleep is unreasonable, as elderly or disabled people may need assistance in the middle of the night.

Robert Nuddleman is an employment lawyer and senior associate with Phillip J. Griego & Associates and opposes the bill. He says the bill causes unnecessary paperwork and employment tedium for the employer and argued Thursday that there are already enough protections for domestic workers.

Weigh in:

Is this the routine push back that labor rights movements get before winning—like with the minimum wage movement? Or are these regulations unreasonable—making the elderly and disabled unable to afford the help they need? Should individuals decide for themselves how to treat their domestic workers or is a bill of rights needed to protect against abuse?


Marci Seville, professor of law, Golden Gate University School of Law; director, Women's Employment Rights Clinic; helped draft AB 889, the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights

Robert Nuddleman, senior associate with Phillip J. Griego & Associates, an employment law firm