Seattle skyline with text overlay: How to be a fair employer during the coronavirus crisis in Washington

On February 29th, Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency in Washington. Many of us are anxious and scared about how the virus will impact us and our communities. While it’s hard to know what will happen, especially as new information is released hourly, we do know that this virus is exposing many of the flaws and inequities in our system, from the need for universal health care coverage to a lack of paid time off for workers.  

Most domestic employers want to do the right thing when they employ someone at home. Being a fair employer means educating yourself about best employment practices, your legal obligations, and preparing your household for moments of crisis. Whether you employ a nanny, house cleaner, and/or home attendant, something you can do is take measures to protect domestic workers and care workers, a workforce excluded from basic labor protections. These measures often help us protect ourselves and our families too.

Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network has prepared this toolkit of best practices for employers to protect the workers employed at their home. We recognize that domestic employers are diverse in terms of race, class, age, ability, gender etc and have varying capacities to carry out these recommendations. We welcome your thoughts and feedback on how to improve these recommendations. Email us at [email protected]

Recommendations for All Domestic Employers

1. Before taking action, review this toolkit and review our recorded webinar on this subject here.

2. Have a conversation with the person you employ at home about Coronavirus and make necessary adjustments for this new reality. Together, set up new agreements to avoid any conflicts and impacts on their income. (Here are more tips for establishing open and respectful communication with workers in your home.) We’ve also created a blog post for how to approach difficult but necessary conversations, including conversation starters that might help you take the first step.

3. Protect your employee’s health and your household’s health. If you need your employee to come to work:

  • Provide gloves, soap and hand sanitizer and give the worker an assurance that your family will sanitize your home. 
  • If you or a member of your household is sick, tell your worker and protect your workers’ health by not asking them to work if at all possible, or honoring their request not to work. If they do come to work, practice recommended social distancing guidelines for in the home (you can find some here), minimizing contact between the person who is sick and your employee.  
  • If you or members of your household have COVID-19 symptoms, get yourself and family tested if that option exists.  Isolate the member of your family who is sick. Notify your employee and ask them not to come to work. If your employee is sick, give them paid time off and assist in covering health care costs if you can.
  • If you are able, consider paying for a taxi or rideshare to transport the workers home who may normally rely on public transit.

4. If you can, provide extended paid sick leave. If you don’t need your worker to come to work, or if the worker becomes sick, provide them with paid sick leave. In the midst of this crisis, Hand in Hand recommends providing at least 10 days of paid time off, or more if you’re able, for your employee to visit the doctor or to stay home to care for themselves or their family members who are sick.

5. During stay-at-home orders, provide paid time off for your employees: While childcare and homecare for people with disabilities and older adults may not be prohibited during shelter-in-place rules, these rules are aimed at minimizing contact and spread of the virus and should be taken very seriously.  For those employers who can, we recommend offering paid time off to your employees, so that they can shelter-in-place and continue to pay their bills. We recognize that this is not possible for many attendant employers and some nanny employers who must report for work in the medical field and other essential operations, or whose very lives depend on their workers.

6. Take action to support all Domestic Workers and our communities. See the list below for how to support new legislation that will support domestic worker’s safety and labor rights, as well as how to donate directly to a Coronavirus Care fund for workers.

7. 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!

Specific Recommendations for Childcare provider, Attendant and House cleaner Employers

For employers of childcare workers/nannies

  • If you are now working from home, set yourself up for success—avoid micromanaging or adding new supervision in the worker’s day. Your home is already their workplace. While you adjust to working from home, set yourself up to maintain their work structure as much as possible.
  • If you are in a nanny share, consider these options: 
    • Be sure you and the other employing family are on the same page BEFORE talking to the childcare provider about what paid time off (PTO) already exists in your work agreement, how much PTO is left for the remainder of your agreement, and what additional PTO you’re willing and able to offer.
    • Consider setting up one home for the childcare and the other home as the place where the parents work, to minimize disruption in both the children’s care and the parents’ work.
    • If you are concerned about exposure to the childcare provider or from the childcare provider and have the work flexibility to do so, place the childcare provider on paid leave and have the parents take turns caring for the children. 
    • Here is a sample work agreement for nanny shares to create a temporary change in the agreement and offer paid time off created by one of Hand in Hand’s Bay Area members.

For employers of home attendants

  • Adjust your schedule to stay at home as much as possible to avoid crowded areas to reduce your exposure and your employees’ exposure. Some ways to do this are by rescheduling or canceling non-essential appointments and getting supplies or groceries delivered. 
  • If you have multiple attendants and one is sick, ask the person who is not well to stay home and ask your other attendants to cover their shifts to minimize everyone’s exposure. This will also help the sick attendant get better.
  • Have attendants continually wash their hands and wear gloves as much as possible to keep everyone safe. (See other health and safety tips above.)
  • If  family members or those that live with you are available, not in a high risk group, and able, consider checking in about whether they can fill in for sick attendants or cover your shifts so that your attendants can stay home.

For employers of house cleaners 

  • House cleaners are tasked with a lot, and more under the current circumstances. When you discuss sanitizing your home with them, be sure to cover the following topics: 
    • What to sanitize and how. See detailed guidance here.
    • Prevent mixing chemicals that create a toxic environment. For example, be careful with the excessive use of bleach, and avoid mixing some chemical products with wipes that have high content of VOC or mixing ammonia and bleach.
  • Provide added protections such as gloves, goggles and masks for workers who are sanitizing homes.  
  • Compensate cleaners for the added work of sanitizing a home on top of cleaning it. 
  • Have a flexible cancellation policy and if you need to cancel, pay for cancelled appointments. (In shelter-in-place counties, housecleaning will likely be deemed a non-essential service and so housecleaners will be forced to forego work. Pay your employee their normal monthly wages to the degree you can so that they are able to continue to support themselves and their families.)
  • Provide a flexible schedule to optimize travel.
  • Sign up for Alia, an innovative program that enables domestic employers to contribute to paid time off and life insurance for the domestic worker in their home.

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.

Legal Obligations under Seattle and Washington State Law

Hand in Hand encourages paying workers “on the books” for many reasons. One of those reasons is that during a moment like this, certain benefits become available to workers that would not be available otherwise, like Washington’s Family & Medical Leave Act, Unemployment Insurance, and Workers Compensation. If you need advice or help about paying on the books, please email [email protected]

Domestic Worker Ordinance

Seattle’s Domestic Worker Ordinance guarantees minimum wage, rest and meal breaks, freedom from harassment, and freedom for workers to keep their passports and other identifying documents, regardless of immigration status. Learn more about the Domestic Worker Ordinance here, or email [email protected]

Paid Sick & Safe Time

Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance ensures that anyone who works in Seattle earns paid time off. To learn about how sick and safe time is earned and make sure you’re calculating it correctly for your employee, visit Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards website.

COVID-19 Resource Page

Paid Family Leave

Nearly all workers in Washington are eligible for Family & Medical Leave starting in 2020. If you have worked 860 hours in Washington during 2019 and work 16 hours weekly, Family & Medical Leave is available to you. Lots of details and the application to apply are here.

Unemployment Insurance

Washington has expanded unemployment insurance for those affected by COVID-19 and are encouraging people to apply. You can find lots of details about who is eligible for what here, and a comparison guide here.


Stay healthy, stay safe, stay in touch, and stay tuned. Hand in Hand will continue to update this toolkit as new information becomes available.