More on Health and Safety

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.

Is there a way I can support a worker’s healthcare needs?

We’ve heard from a lot of employers who want to provide healthcare coverage for their employees or support a worker’s health care needs in some way. That’s a great goal. With some time and thought, you can figure out a way to do this that works for you and your employee.

There is no law guaranteeing health coverage for all domestic workers nor is there a specific health insurance program for domestic employees at this time. But it is important to play whatever role you can to support a domestic worker to get health coverage in some way. Please consider the following options:

  • You can pay for their health insurance directly. There are some low-cost private insurance options for small employers in some states.
  • You can support the worker you employ to access the new exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Through the ACA–also known as ”Obamacare”–there are now new possibilities for coverage that can benefit some domestic workers, although undocumented immigrants will not quality. See: Questions and Answers about the Affordable Care Act for Household Employers.
  • You can support the worker you employ to access health coverage through another subsidized source, such as Medicaid.
  • Many undocumented immigrants and other low-income workers and their families can get primary care for minimal cost at community health centers. You can find local health centers here. 
  • You can augment the worker’s wage by $2/hour to support them in paying for whatever option they choose.
  • You can pay for a set number of doctor’s visits or medical needs up to a specific amount.

Is there anything I should know about providing food to my employee?

Workers should have access to kitchen facilities and be able to prepare their own food as they wish.  If you or your family has specific dietary or religious restrictions, you should communicate that to the worker in the hiring process and outline any restrictions related to kitchen-use in your written agreement.

Employers of home attendants or nannies/childcare providers should provide petty cash for activities, transit, and meals connected to the job.

What else should I know about workplace safety?

As an employer, you should ensure that your workplace is a safe and healthy one for your employee. Don’t ask the domestic worker you employ to do anything that could put them in danger or at risk. And for any worker using cleaning products, be sure to offer protective gear and the option of non-toxic products.

Make a plan for workers comp—some homeowners and renters insurance cover workers comp but not all; if you use a payroll system, please make sure to ask about this.

You can find out more about workers comp laws in your state here.

What should I do about meal and rest breaks? I can’t have the worker leave my child or my aging relative alone.

Breaks for domestic workers present challenges rooted in the unique nature of the domestic workplace. It is often the case that workers are caring for children or elders who need constant attention. Also, as many of us are caregivers ourselves, we know that domestic workers need breaks in order to do their jobs with patience and skill. That said, domestic workers, like all of us, need breaks for meals and to rest, and employers and workers need to find a way to balance everyone’s needs.

These breaks can be off-site or on-site if the nature of the work requires the worker to be on call. If a worker cannot have meal and rest breaks, they should be compensated extra for that time.

What do we mean by breaks? A meal break should be 30 minutes, a rest break at least 10 minutes–long enough to make a phone call, or sit down to rest. Meal and rest breaks can happen out of the household or in your home, if the nature of the work requires the worker to be on call.

For parents as well as childcare providers, children’s naps are a great time for the caregiver to get a break. But when the naps disappear, you might try to create a little off time by putting on a video or settling the child in the Pack n’ Play so the caregiver can sit down and finish a sandwich. Make sure a nanny/childcare provider feels comfortable doing the same things you would do. It’s important to make sure that all care-giving downtime is not filled up with household chores.

If it is not possible for a worker to have a meaningful meal and rest break, you should compensate extra for that time.

There is no federal law stating domestic employers must provide meals and rest breaks, but federal law does say that rest breaks should be paid time. You can find state meal and break requirements for other sectors at the US Department of Labor site here (meals) and here (rest).

What are fair sleep provisions for home attendants and childcare providers who live-in or sleep over?

We can’t, of course, overstate the importance of sleep for everyone in your household. When workers have uninterrupted sleep it ensures that they can live healthy and thriving lives. If a worker does not have enough sleep, she is likely to get sick or make mistakes on the job, which is not good for anyone. It’s crucial that you spend some time thinking about how best you can ensure that your needs or that of a family member are attended to throughout the night, but that a worker isn’t deprived of the sleep she needs.

For unpaid sleep hours, workers should have access to uninterrupted sleep (ideally, 8 hours). Uninterrupted means they are not waking up to turn someone or to care for a baby. If the worker needs to be on-call for rare (i.e. less than once out of every 30 nights) emergencies but generally can sleep through the night, we also consider that uninterrupted.

We encourage you to figure out how to ensure that a worker can sleep for eight uninterrupted hours. This might involve hiring a second-shift/overnight worker.

If regular work is needed throughout the night, then the worker should be compensated at her regular hourly rate for that time.

For employers of home attendants: Find out about regulations from the Federal Department of Labor, effective January 1, 2015, here.

 

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