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.  Contact your insurance company to add workers comp if your policy doesn’t currently have it. And, 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.

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.

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 seniors 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. As employers and workers we need to find a way to balance everyone’s needs.

We recommend that you do all you can to build meal and rest breaks into the job.  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 a meaningful meal and rest breaks, they should be compensated extra for that time.

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 (although in CA housecleaners and cooks are afforded meal 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.

If a worker is on duty, even if they are asleep, they should be paid for that time, as it is time they are spending away from their loved ones and it is time that they don’t control.  (In CA, all hours that a worker is on duty, even if they are asleep, must be paid under law.) Keep in mind that in some states overtime pay kicks in at 9 hours/day and in all states overtime pay kicks in after 40 hours/week.  In the case of homecare attendants, who have been known to do 24-48 hour shifts and even 24/7 shifts, these workers should be paid daily and weekly overtime. One way to make this more affordable for an employer (and more sustainable for the worker) is to hire two or three workers so that no worker is working longer than a 8-12 hour shift.

In cases where a worker consistently gets 8 hours uninterrupted sleep and the worker is not required to be on-duty or available (such as in the case of a live-in nanny of older children that watches the kids during the daytime only), then they would not need to be paid for that time.

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.