Massachusetts Becomes Fourth State to Enact Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights

By Robert P. Rudolph, Esq.

On June 26, 2014, Governor Patrick signed “An Act Establishing a Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights.”  Similar to comparable laws in New York, California and Hawaii, the bill extends work standards and labor protections to approximately 67,000 domestic workers in the Commonwealth.  The new legislation provides domestic workers with many rights that exceed those afforded to other Massachusetts employees and can result in harsh penalties for violators.

The Massachusetts Domestic Workers’ Protection Act covers individuals or employees who are paid by an employer to perform work of a domestic nature within a household, such as housekeepers, nannies, cleaners, caregivers, cooks and home companions.  Excluded from the act are personal care attendants (as legally defined) someone whose vocation is not childcare and individuals who provide childcare on a casual, intermittent and irregular basis.  For purposes of this new legislation, an employer is considered any person who employs a domestic worker to work within a household, regardless of who owns the house, excluding staffing agencies and recipients of services from personal care attendants.

Under the new legislation, domestic workers who work 40 hours a week or more are entitled to 24 hours of consecutive rest and at least 48 hours of consecutive rest during each calendar month.  If a domestic worker voluntarily chooses to work on a day of rest, such agreement must be in writing and the domestic worker must be provided overtime pay pursuant to Massachusetts minimum wage laws.  The new legislation deems days or periods of rest as job-protected leave from employment.  Where a domestic worker is on duty for less then 24 consecutive hours and does not reside on the property, the domestic worker is entitled to be paid for all hours as working time.  Where a domestic worker is required to be on duty for a period of 24 consecutive hours or more (1) the employer and domestic worker can agree to exclude a regularly scheduled sleeping period of no more than 8 hours from working time and (2) unless a prior written agreement is made, all meal, rest and sleeping periods shall constitute compensable time.

The act gives domestic workers the right to request a written work evaluation of work performance from the employer after three months of employment, and annually thereafter, which can be inspected and disputed.  If a domestic worker resides in the employer’s household and is terminated without cause, the employer is required to provide written notice of termination and a minimum of thirty days of lodging (either continuing in the household or comparable elsewhere), or, alternatively, severance pay equivalent to two weeks of the domestic worker’s average earnings.  No severance or notice of termination is required if good faith allegations of abuse, neglect or other harmful conduct by the domestic worker against the employer, members of the employer’s family or individuals residing in the home are made in writing.

Most notably, an employer who employs a domestic worker for as few as sixteen hours or more a week will be required to provide a document to the worker with the material terms of the worker’s employment, including, but not limited to, rate of pay, working hours and breaks, provisions for days or rest, sick days, vacation and personal days, holidays, transportation, health insurance, severance, yearly raises and reimbursements, costs for food and lodging, responsibilities, grievance procedures, rights to collect workers’ compensation if injured, required notices of termination and more.

Employers must also maintain a record of wages and hours worked pursuant to existing fair wage laws.  The act entitles domestic workers to maternity leave, to enjoy a right of privacy, free from restrictions or interference with private communications and personal effects, and limits what deductions employers can make from pay for food and lodging, amongst other things. These are just some of the many new protections the new legislation provides to domestic workers.

The Attorney General’s Office has been charged with enforcing the Massachusetts Domestic Worker’s Protection Act when it goes into effect on April 1, 2015.  Violations of the act are punishable by fines or imprisonment.  This primer is not legal advice. Contact one of our employment lawyers today if you employ a domestic worker and need advice.


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