Cityscape of Manhattan, with text How to be a fair care employer during the coronavirus crisis in New York

Most domestic employers want to do the right thing when they employ someone at home. Being a fair care employer means educating yourself about best employment practices, your legal obligations,  and preparing your household in moments of crisis. Whether you employ a nanny, house cleaner, or home attendant, it’s critical that you take steps to be a fair care employer during the coronavirus health emergency. 

Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network has prepared this toolkit of best practices for employers to protect the workers employed at their home.  Remember your home is someone’s workplace!

Become a member of Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network and join a national movement to create a care infrastructure that works for workers and communities!

Find relevant New York State and City laws here. For other state and city laws, review this resource. For more information, contact New York Organizer Tatiana Bejar at [email protected]

Recommendations for domestic employers

Have a conversation 

A great labor relationship is based on open and trust-based communication. Set a time to talk to the person you employ about COVID-19.  Share your feelings and concerns and create a space for the person you employ to share as well. Create a plan where you both agree to new protocols or schedules that take into account both of your needs and safety, as well as impacts on their income. More tips on Open and Respectful Communication.

Continue paying the person you employ

In NYC, domestic workers are excluded from most labor protections. As this crisis hits, domestic workers, as are all low-wage workers, are at a high risk of losing income. If possible, we recommend paying your employee their full wages even if the person you employ is not able to work, or works fewer hours. We recognize how hard it is to go through a hiring process and find the right person to work in your home. Providing consistent payment will not only be a potential lifesaver for them and provide the consistent income we all deserve, it will also allow your current agreement and labor relationship to stay in place and continue seamlessly once the crisis is over.

Tip 1: If you are able, provide the option for the person you employ to stay home while you continue paying her full wages. If the person you employ or a family member is sick this may be necessary, but even if not, there are many reasons they may need to stay home right now, enabled by continued income. If you employ someone who is continuing to do necessary homecare or attendant support, now is a good time to offer paid sick leave if they or someone in their family gets sick, and to make backup plans.

Tip 2: If your income is also impacted by the crisis, be open with your employee about the limitations you have to continue paying their full wages. Try to continue paying her for as long as you can and connect her to other resources and support, including the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) a national network of domestic workers, and their resources for domestic workers on the coronavirus pandemic. 

Additional resources: 

Transportation, Health & Safety

There are a whole new set of things to think about right now to ensure the health and safety of the person you employ, and of you and your home. Here are some things to consider.

Provide a flexible schedule to avoid extra stress on your employee. If you absolutely need the person you employ—nanny, house cleaner, or home attendant—to continue coming to your home, consider paying for taxis or driving your employee to and from home.

Provide gloves, soap, and hand sanitizer, and let them know what you are doing to sanitize your home (or go over cleaning plans together if they are your housecleaner, see below for more details). Masks aren’t required unless someone is sick at home.

If your family is being tested, offer testing to your employee and their family members, and assist in covering health care costs if you can.

What if you are now working from home?

Even though many of us are now working from home, we recommend that you not suddenly cancel work for your employee without pay (see above). Be communicative and aware of the impact that you’re having on your employee’s livelihood because of shifts to your household schedule.

Set yourself up for success – avoid micromanaging or adding new levels of supervision of your employee.. Your home is already their workplace, and you are now working there, too. Set yourself up to maintain their work structure as usual or make adjustments that will work for both of you.

Provide paid breaks to rest. Everyone is emotionally exhausted and workers also need to rest and check on their families.

What can I do to support my housecleaner?

House cleaners, janitors, and workers across industries are being called upon to do additional cleaning to sanitize to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, which can also mean higher exposure to dangerous and harmful chemicals.

Having a conversation about sanitizing homes is very important. Check here for our guide on best practices for employers of house cleaners. Check here for recommended products to use against COVID-19, and please remember to avoid dangerous mixtures. Sometimes people think that combining different cleaning products will make for a more powerful cleaning agent. Please avoid this! As you can see below, certain mixtures can create harmful (and sometimes deadly) gases. 

  • Bleach+Vinegar → Together, they produce chlorine gas, which even at low levels, can cause coughing, breathing problems, and burning watery eyes.
  • Bleach+Ammonia → Bleach and Ammonia produce a toxic gas called chloramine. It causes the same symptoms as bleach and vinegar
  • Bleach+Rubbing Alcohol → creates chloroform, which can be irritating and toxic.
  • Don’t mix bleach with anything, but water!

Other tips:
Tip 1: Provide ventilation. Open doors and windows, and avoid cleaning in small enclosed spaces.
Tip 2: Provide disposable gloves, face masks, and goggles.
Tip 3: Provide breaks from cleaning to mitigate frequent exposure.
Tip 4: Have a discussion about fair pay for the added work of sanitizing the home on top of cleaning it.
Tip 5: Have a flexible cancellation policy and if you need to cancel, pay for cancellations.
Tip 6: Provide a flexible schedule to allow for travel during low traffic commute times, or pay for taxis.

If your home is quarantined, be sure to notify workers immediately so that they stay away. The worker has the right to deny house cleaning services while you are sick without losing their job. Reassure them that they will still receive pay.

Tips for employers of home attendants

Provide masks, gloves, soap, and hand sanitizer. Rethink scheduling of or cancel non-essential appointments to avoid crowded areas and exposure. Allow extra time for care workers to prepare themselves and their own families. Consider paying for taxis to transport the workers home or drive them (see above for additional protections).

If you hire homecare workers for an elderly loved one there is no need to feel guilty. Home care workers are essential workers and they are trained to take precautions. Just talk with them about their needs and protocols.

If your home attendant is not showing up or you didn’t want your home care worker exposed but now need help, you can contact the home care agency that provides home attendants and let them know you need someone. Whether you provide private pay or use an agency, the most important thing is to have a conversation with the person you employ about  Covid-19 and offer them essential items such as hand sanitizer, gloves and masks.

Take Action and Support Policies to Protect Your Worker

Support our policy campaigns and join in solidarity with communities of color, low-income people, seniors and people with disabilities who are particularly vulnerable at this time.

  • Sign the Employer Pledge to continue to pay the worker you employ during the crisis.
  • Become a member of Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network! Join a national movement mobilizing people who hire nannies, house cleaners, and home care workers to bring respect and dignity to domestic workers and ensure affordability of care for our communities!

Legal Obligations under New York State and New York City laws

NYS Paid Family Leave Law 

  • Provides 10 weeks of paid leave at 60% of employee’s salary. Paid care workers who are hired directly by a private homeowner and who work 40 or more hours a week for the private homeowner are required to be covered for Paid Family Leave and are eligible once they have been in employment for 26 consecutive weeks. This benefit can be used to care for a family member with a serious health condition. This leave may not be used for their own health condition. Paid Family Leave is funded through employee payroll contributions that are set each year to match the cost of coverage. NYS Family Leave 

Agency Home Care Workers: Covered employees become eligible to take Paid Family Leave for a qualifying event once they have met the minimum time-worked requirements:

  • Full-time employees: Employees who work a regular schedule of 20 or more hours per week are eligible after 26 consecutive weeks of employment.
  • Part-time employees: Employees who work a regular schedule of less than 20 hours per week are eligible after working 175 days, which do not need to be consecutive. Employees with irregular schedules should look at their average schedule to determine if they work, on average, fewer than 20 hours per week.

Example of where this would apply: Family of the paid care worker gets seriously ill and they need to take extended time off to take care of them. 

NYC Paid Safe & Sick Leave Law

  • Domestic workers are entitled to 2 days of paid safe and sick leave under NYC Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law. Employers may have a sick leave policy that provides workers with more generous paid sick days, but even if you don’t, domestic workers and agency home care workers still have protections under the law. This benefit is available for employees to take time off from work if they are sick or if a family member is sick. Employees may also be able to request unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation.
  • Agency home care employer: In New York City employers with five or more employees must provide paid safe and sick leave. Employees can earn 40 hours of paid leave that they can use if employees have a health condition or to care for a family member with a health condition. If you have less than five employees, employees  earn 40 hours of unpaid leave. For more information, please visit the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs.
  • Example of how this would apply: A worker can request to take leave for themselves or anyone in their family who needs to get tested, has cold or flu like symptoms. They may take two days off without submitting documentation. 

NYS Domestic Worker Bill of Rights

  • Provides all paid care workers 3 paid days of rest. Employers are encouraged to discuss employee rights and review the Notice of Rights with their employee(s).
  • Example of how this would apply: A worker needs to take time off for personal reasons, to care for a family member, to get health insurance, assure safety of a child or get training. 

Workers’ Compensation Insurance

  • Workers’ compensation is insurance that provides cash benefits and/or medical care for workers who are injured or become ill as a direct result of their job. Employers must provide coverage for paid care workers who work 40 or more hours per week. Workers’ compensation is not required for paid care workers who work less than 40 hours a week but many still choose to obtain a voluntary policy. This policy will protect both the employer and domestic worker should a work-related illness or injury occur. Employers pay for this insurance and shall not require the employee to contribute to the cost of compensation. 

Workers’ Compensation Board

  • Example of how this would apply: A worker gets seriously ill as a direct result of being in your household or being on the job. 

New York State Disability Insurance

  • New York is one of a handful of states that require employers to provide disability benefits coverage to employees for an off-the-job injury or illness. Disability benefits are temporary cash benefits paid to an eligible wage earner when he/she is disabled by an off-the-job injury or illness. Paid care workers who work 40 or more hours per week for the same employer must be covered by disability benefits insurance. Benefits are paid for a maximum of 26 weeks of disability during 52 consecutive weeks. An employer is allowed, but not required, to collect contributions from its employees to offset the cost of providing benefits. An employee’s contribution is computed at the rate of one-half of one percent of his/her wages, but no more than sixty cents a week.
  • Workers’ compensation is not required for domestic workers who work less than 40 hours a week but many still choose to obtain a voluntary policy. This policy will protect both the employer and domestic worker should an off-the-job illness or injury occur. You can obtain forms for Voluntary Coverage by contacting a carrier authorized to write New York State Disability Benefits Insurance. 
  • Example of how this would apply: The worker got seriously ill on their way home or from their own household.