On April 1, 2015, a new law that vastly expands the rights and protections afforded to domestic workers went into effect in Massachusetts. The “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights” grants domestic workers a slew of new workplace protections, including a broader definition of compensable “working time,” mandatory rest days for full-time workers, privacy protections, a grievance procedure and the right to performance evaluations. Massachusetts is only the fourth state in the country (after New York, California and Hawaii) to pass a Bill of Rights for domestic workers.
The law covers all individuals employed to perform work of a domestic nature in a household with the exception of personal care attendants and casual babysitters. Thus, housekeepers and nannies as well as caretakers and companions for the sick and the elderly are all protected under the new law. In addition, the law applies to anyone that employs a domestic worker—whether you are an individual or family employing one worker in your home or a large company that employs hundreds of workers in different households.
The major provisions of the law can be summarized as follows:
“Working Time” – Employers must compensate workers who do not reside on the employer’s premises and who are on duty for less than 24 consecutive hours for all meals and breaks unless, during those times, the worker is free to leave and use that time for his or her sole benefit. With respect to workers who are on duty for 24 consecutive hours or more, employers must compensate them for all meals, rest and sleeping periods. However, the employer and the worker may agree in writing to exclude a regularly-scheduled sleeping period from compensated time. The scheduled sleeping period may not exceed 8 hours for each 24 hour period.
Rest Days – Employers must give workers employed for 40 hours or more per week 24 consecutive hours of rest each week and 48 consecutive hours each month. While the worker may voluntarily agree to work on a day of rest, that agreement must be in writing and the employer must pay the worker the overtime rate for that day.
Meals and Lodging – An employer may deduct from the worker’s wages an amount for any food and beverages freely chosen by the worker, unless the worker cannot easily bring or prepare meals on the premises. An employer may also deduct an amount for lodging if the worker freely accepts and actually uses the lodging and the lodging is adequate, decent and sanitary. But, an employer may not deduct for lodging if the worker is required to reside on the premises or in a particular location. An employer may not deduct an amount for meals or lodging from the worker’s wages without the worker’s prior written consent.
Privacy – Domestic workers have a right to privacy, and an employer may not restrict or interfere with a worker’s means of private communication (e.g. cellphone, laptop), monitor a worker’s private communications or take a worker’s documents or other personal effects.
Termination – If an employer terminates a worker who resides in his or her household without cause, the employer must provide the worker with written notice and 30 days of lodging or a severance payment equal to two weeks of earnings.
Performance Evaluations – Workers may request a written performance evaluation after three months of employment and annually thereafter, which they may inspect and dispute.
Recordkeeping – Employers are required to maintain extensive records for workers employed more than 16 hours per week, including the rate of pay; working hours and time off; the policies on sick days, vacation days, transportation, health insurance and severance; the job responsibilities; the process for raising and addressing grievances; and the right to worker’s compensation if injured.
Notice – Employers must provide workers with a notice that contains all state and federal laws that apply to the employment of domestic workers.
Employers unaware of the new law will most likely need to overhaul their existing scheduling and recordkeeping practices as well as redefine the employment terms and compensation for many of their workers. Employers should begin that process now to ensure full compliance with the law as soon as possible.