Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Workplace Protections for Nannies

Working parents take heed!  NY to provide workplace protections for nannies:

. . .nannies, as well as other domestic workers who make possible the lives of New York’s eternally striving work force, have long gone without basic workplace guarantees that most employees take for granted.

That appears likely to change soon.

The State Senate this week passed a bill that would require paid holidays, sick days and vacation days for domestic workers, along with overtime wages. It would require 14 days’ notice, or termination pay, before firing a domestic worker.

The Assembly passed a similar measure last year, and lawmakers expect that the two versions will be reconciled and that Gov. David A. Paterson will sign what they say would be the nation’s first such protections for domestic workers. It would affect an estimated 200,000 workers in the metropolitan area: citizens, legal immigrants and those here illegally as well.

Gueisa Alvarez, 40, a nanny for two decades, said she felt exploited by families early in her career, before she attained the confidence to stand up for herself. She said she hoped a law would protect new workers.

“It will inform them of things they don’t understand as young women coming from some other country and just trying to make some money,” Ms. Alvarez said.

But among domestic workers, there are some doubts that immigrants lacking legal documentation would be willing to report violations of a new wage law to a government agency.

“If you are legal in this country, you will benefit from it, but if you are not, then I don’t think it will do much for you,” said Rhea Bolivia, who immigrated from the Philippines and works as a nanny for a family with two small children on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Once an employee is hired, state labor laws become enforceable, regardless of the employee’s immigration status. Penalties have been issued against supermarkets, restaurants and other employers for failing to pay overtime to groups of employees that included illegal immigrants. The legislation would give the State Labor Department and the attorney general the power to enforce its provisions.

The potential for additional costs to the families who hire the caretakers is not clear. Many already voluntarily provide such benefits. Domestic workers are now covered by minimum-wage laws, and the bills would set no other mandatory wage levels.

The bills would increase the risks of getting caught for employers who pay domestic workers off the books to avoid taxes. “That’s what we are trying to end,” Ms. Savino said.

But for nannies and parents alike, the legislation, if enacted, could well create a kind of baseline for negotiations over pay, hours and benefits. Now, the dealings typically leave both sides unsure of what is fair, and in the end, employers sometimes feeling guilty and employees feeling shortchanged.

"We are really looking toward healing the divide between employee and employer," said Sarah Fields, program coordinator at the advocacy group Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

Read the full NY Times article here.


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