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The answers you find here are intended to serve as suggested best practices for domestic employment, and have been crafted by Hand in Hand with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. They are designed to help you take steps toward creating a mutually beneficial domestic employment relationship—and help set a framework for conversations with the domestic worker(s) you employ. Please understand that these suggested best practices may differ based on the particular domestic employment relationship and that these possible best practices do not constitute legal advice.

It’s important to know what the law says about your obligations, and it’s also important to learn about the kind of community standards and the best practices that are being developed by Hand in Hand with the National Domestic Workers Alliance that you find on this site.

Legal resources to consult:

  • Call our friends at Breedlove at (888) 273-3356, to get answers about the law and taxes.
  • Find the relevant tax and labor laws for domestic workers in your state
  • Order a guide to legal questions related to employment in your state by going here
  • Find out more about new federal labor regulations for home attendants that will go into effect in January 2015

You can also find more information about paying “on the books” here.

How do I adhere to the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights?

In Hawaii, New York, California, and an increasing number of states, workers, seniors, people with disabilities, parents, and legislators have come together to pass or advocate for new legislation to protect the rights of domestic workers; make the needs for childcare and in-home support for seniors and people with disabilities in our country visible; and ensure that all domestic work is recognized and considered valuable. Hand in Hand members have proudly joined these campaigns.

For information about how these new laws might affect you in your state, go to our special Find Your State section of the site.

 

As a domestic employer, what kinds of records do I need to keep? How do I do it?

Record-keeping is a minimal investment of your time that will have a significant pay off for both you and your employee. When you create work agreements, timesheets, and payment records, you will have the means to sort out any disagreement or confusion or have important information in case of an emergency. In all cases, you want reliable records at your fingertips. A work agreement is a great place to start.

Basic guidelines about what to keep a record of: 

  • A written work agreement.
  • The worker’s name, address, phone numbers, email, and two emergency contacts
  • A timesheet (the worker should also have a copy). This can be on an excel sheet, a Google spreadsheet if you both have access to the internet, or you can create it by hand on a pad of paper that is stored somewhere you both can access it. Find an example here.
  • Pay stub recording dates, hours worked, and rate of pay.

There are different federal and state laws about record keeping which you can find here.

“It’s not hard. I keep track of her hours on a yellow pad that I keep in my drawer. I make a copy of it and give it to her. I do it every week. It shows how much she worked each day in 15 min increments.” – Anonymous employer of a childcare provider

What if I decide to terminate the worker’s employment? And under what circumstances is a worker fired without notice?

Under most states’ laws employers can terminate domestic employees anytime without any specific reason. That said, making good choices about how you end a domestic workplace relationship is a way to express your appreciation for all that a worker has done for you and/or your family. Even if you are ending the job because you are dissatisfied with an employee’s performance, all workers (short of those responsible for serious wrongdoing) are owed fair treatment at the end of a job.

Ideally, you will have established a written or verbal agreement at the beginning of the job that outlined how it would end. Even if you didn’t do this, it is best practice to provide at least two weeks notice or if you want the worker to stop working short of two weeks, you should pay her remaining wages for that time. You should also make a plan for severance in accordance to years worked.

Long term employers: Think Ahead

If you’ve employed a worker for many years or even decades, discuss a plan for her retirement as early as possible. You can help the worker to start her own IRA and contribute to it on a regular basis. After years of service to you or your family, it is important to do what you can to ensure that a longtime employee has sufficient funds for retirement, through an IRA or other savings fund, as well as Social Security.

If a worker will not be receiving social security benefits because she is undocumented and/or was never paid on the books, or if there were no other funds saved, you could consider paying severance for the entirety of a worker’s retirement. It’s a wonderful way to say thank you after a lifetime of work in your household.

When you want to help a worker find her next job:

Provide her with a written letter of recommendation that includes your contact information. Use your personal networks to spread word of her availability.

Grounds for immediate termination:

If an employee is terminated for cause–which may be spelled out in a work agreement—no notice needs to be given. Cause for immediately firing a worker includes the physical or verbal abuse of the senior or the person with a disability who the worker is assisting; the abuse or endangerment of a child; theft or compromised security in the home.

Should I pay on the books?

Many employers, as well as domestic workers, don’t have the information or guidance they need about “paying on the books,” or in other words, “adhering to the law.” Below is some information for you to consider as you create best practices to adhere to applicable laws:

First step: When you make a job offer, or really any time during an employment relationship, it’s a good idea to open up a conversation about paying on the books. Let the worker you employ know you are raising the conversation because you have connected to an organization that supports the rights of immigrants and women workers and that we suggested that having this conversation would help ensure that you are being a fair employer.

What’s important to know: Paying taxes might one day provide the worker you employ with the major protections and benefits that other workers enjoy. She will accrue earnings toward Social Security, Medicare, disability, and unemployment benefits that would come to her if she is a citizen, has a green card, or if she is currently undocumented but one day becomes a citizen as a result of immigration reform. More immediately, she will also be able to build a credit and work history that could help her qualify for a car loan or mortgage.

Benefits to you: Although it will cost you more to pay on the books, you can take advantage of a childcare flex account at your company or workplace by using pre-tax income; you can get childcare tax credits; you can have the peace of mind that you are abiding by the law.

Need more help? Look at the following resources:

– Find tax and labor laws state-by-state and check out this FAQ

– Look for payroll services such as:

  • Care.com/Breedlove & Associates include free consultations about domestic employment taxes. Go to their website or call 1-888-273-3356
  • GTM Household Employment Experts include household tax and payroll services and human resource management for domestic workers.

– Check out this how-to guide for paying “on the books”

What if the worker I employ doesn’t want to be paid on the books?

Let the worker you employ know about local affiliates of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and give her a chance to seek guidance from trusted sources.

What are best practices for overtime?

After 40 hours of working, the risk of accidents and mistakes increases. In order to create sustainable jobs, in many cases, the law encourages you to pay workers “time and a half”—or 1.5 times their regular hourly rate—after 40 hours of work per week and after 8 hours per day. For example, someone earning $15 per hour would get $22.50 per overtime hour when working over 40 hours.

Employers of home attendants can review the law state-by-state, here and learn more about Federal Department of Labor rules about overtime.

Are you planning to pay a “salary”?

Domestic workers are typically hourly workers to ensure that overtime pay can be calculated and their labor is not exploited. If you would like to guarantee a weekly take-home amount for the worker you employ, or have other questions about this, please contact us at info@domesticemployers.org.

What if I can’t afford overtime pay?

For employers of home attendants: If you employ a home attendant for a high number of hours and cannot afford overtime pay, we encourage you to hire multiple workers and track their hours, so that no one worker works more than 40 hours a week. We recognize that some of you will have to shift your employment practices to do this, and while this may be a challenge in the short run, in the long run these changes will benefit everyone.

For employers of nannies/childcare providers: If you employ a nanny/childcare provider for a high number of hours and cannot afford overtime pay, we encourage you to employ multiple workers; possibly a day-time provider and a night-time provider. Another option is to enter into a “nanny-share” arrangement and in this way share the cost of overtime with other families. Note: If you participate in a nanny-share, the hourly wage should increase because the worker is caring for more children. So compare costs before making this shift.

How much vacation and time off should I give?

Time off is important to ensure that your employee has time with her family, and time to rest and do the things she loves (just like the rest of us!). Here are some recommendations about how much time off you should offer:

  • For full-time employees provide at least 5 paid sick days; and for part-time employees, 1 hour for every 30 hours worked.
  • For full-time employees we recommend at least 2 weeks of paid vacation; and for part-time employees, 1 hour for every 30 hours worked.

    Any un-used vacation should be paid out as additional pay when the worker leaves the job.

  • Provide the standard 8 paid government holidays or agreed upon holidays  of the employee’s choice.
  • Provide at least one month of paid family or medical leave, with guaranteed employment upon return.
  • Find out about any additional laws and standards that apply specifically to your state.

What do I need to know if a worker accompanies me on a trip?

When you’re determining an employee’s compensation for a trip, always keep in mind that this is time that an employee will be spending away from her home and family. Even if you are taking a worker with you on your vacation, remember that it’s work time, not vacation time for her.

  • For employers of home attendants: Find out about regulations from the Federal Department of Labor, effective January 1, 2015, here. It is important to pay at least the rate that these regulations outline. In addition, please make sure to reimburse the worker for any costs related to the travel (meals, etc.) and it’s good practice to augment the hourly rate with a bonus.
  • For employers of nannies/childcare providers: You should pay a worker her regular hourly wage for all time worked—in transit or otherwise. You should be explicit about how many hours your employee will be expected to work during the trip, and what the sleeping arrangements will be. In addition, please make sure to reimburse a childcare provider for any costs related to the travel (meals, etc.) and augment the hourly rate with a bonus.

Remember: If you choose to travel without your employee on days you originally hired her to work, you should compensate her for this time, even if she is not working.

If I pay for the worker I employ to go to ESL classes, can this count toward their wages?

No, this isn’t wages. If you and your employee agree that she would like to take ESL classes and you feel inclined to pay for them, that’s wonderful. But it’s not wages. If she wants to use her wages to independently pay for ESL or any other classes, that’s up to her.

Note: there might be a local organization that provides free ESL classes. If she is interested, you can direct a worker to an affiliate of the National Domestic Workers Alliance to see if that’s the case.

What should I do if the worker I employ has a new baby or has surgery and needs time off?

Finding a way to address situations like these in a way that honors everyone’s needs can be a complicated but highly rewarding expenditure of time and effort. Providing some degree of family and medical leave might be a big challenge in the short term, but will help secure a strong, long-term relationship with your employee.

We encourage you provide at least one month of paid leave within a one-year period with a guarantee the worker can return to her position. This leave would be used for family caregiving or to allow a worker to address her own serious health condition; the time could also be used for the birth or adoption of a child.  Ideally, these weeks of leave would be paid in full. We encourage you to be as generous as you can be to allow the worker to take needed leave and still be able to support her family.

We know, though, that while you might hope to offer a worker the kind of generous leave you would want, you need to make sure that your household’s needs can be met in her absence. This requires creativity, careful planning, and good communication on all sides.

What can help?

  • Notice of a pregnancy, scheduled surgery or medical treatment, or other similar events in a worker’s life as soon as possible. Make sure the domestic worker you employ knows that its safe to reach out to you about these important life changes as early as possible.
  • Referrals from your employee to help you find a fill-in domestic worker. Sometimes using an employee’s network can help you find someone quickly who understands the situation and could accept a temporary job. It might also help with the transition if your employee knows the fill-in worker and can comfortably train her for the job.
  • The use of a worker co-op or hiring hall that provides domestic workers on short notice and for short-term jobs.

There are currently no federal laws covering domestic workers for family and medical leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) only covers workers in businesses with 50 or more employees. Check out state specific laws about family and medical leave here.

Find out about opportunities to advocate for better family leave and other policy changes.

Is there a union for domestic workers?

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) guarantees employees the right to organize through a union. Under the NLRA, domestic workers (who are privately employed and paid out-of-pocket by employers directly) are excluded from the definition of “employee” and therefore many of these workers are denied the right to form labor unions.

 

Many domestic workers organize through worker centers, co-ops, or other non-profit organizations like the local affiliates of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Check out AFSCME and SEIU for more information about unions for home attendants and others who are paid by Medicaid or other government programs.

Should I pay a holiday bonus?

The principles of the Fair Care Pledge can help guide you when making your end of year bonus. Check out our simple how-to here.

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