Domestic Work Employee Equality, Fairness, and Dignity Act

The California Legislature is in the process of passing the Domestic Work Employee Equality, Fairness, and Dignity Act, which would extend fairly standard employment protections to include domestic workers, including childcare givers, more commonly referred to as nannies. Contrary to a characterization of the bill circulating the internet, via a California Senator's website, the bill contains an explicit exception for babysitters. This means that the fairly stringent requirements regarding paid vacation, sick days, and meal periods do not apply to what a babysitter is commonly understood as, i.e. a person who supervises a child, with minimal caregiving, for a relatively short or infrequent period of time, etc. (the text refers to and defines these people as personal assistants). Rather, the law declares that domestic caregivers deserve the same protections as other industries.

Meal periods are required, unless the nature of the work does not allow for them, contains requirements for waiving, including how to pay. This must be in writing, thus giving the employee some sort of enforceable protection. It also requires that if an employee is scheduled to work, but upon arrival not needed, they will be paid at least a portion of their hours, unless for certain circumstances out of the employer's control (e.g. acts of God, etc.) It also requires for certain minimally acceptable standard housing and working conditions, and other reasonable provisions, such as if an employee is a live-in care taker, absent an emergency, they shall be relieved for at least an 8 hour uninterrupted period to sleep. The law specifies that someone else must be on duty during that time, which lends legitimacy to the guaranteed uninterrupted period. It also requires the purchase of worker's compensation insurance.

Where this new CA law gets tricky

The obvious benefits of the law, are that it extends the typical types of benefits that full time employees receive in other industries, such as the minimum wage, paid vacation time, and it requires fairly strict accounting on paycheck stubs (increasing the burden on the employer).

What's tricky, is that the meal and rest time period sections contain language about the nature of the work, and says that the rest and meal periods may be waived, but that the employer will then have to pay the employee for an additional hour. It does not clarify whether that is one additional hour for each meal period and rest period, or one additional hour will be sufficient for a violation of each. The requirement to pay an additional fine for days when these requirements are not met further complicates the potential outcome where the requirements are not met.

New CA Law's Potential Pitfalls

In addition to the potential problems discussed above, the law requires a yearly wage increase. This is tied to various forms of gauging the Consumer Price Index, Standard of Living Increases, etc. This is probably what is going to hurt domestic employees, whom are allegedly protected by this law. This gives an incentive not to keep them on too long. While there remains an incentive to maintain trustworthy caregivers, presumably those who value their caregivers the most are probably already in compliance with much of the law's requirements, and so will not be affected.

Those most likely to suffer as a result of these more stringent requirements, are the caregivers who are currently, for example, employed by parents who are struggling to decide whether to pay slightly more (now potentially much more) for a nanny to care for their child in-home, or to send them to a marginally less expensive, or comparably expensive, daycare center, where they will not have to worry about formal paycheck requirements, keeping track of sick leave, paid vacation, and the like.  It may serve to erode more of the difference between in-home care and institutional care.

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