California Labor Laws and the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Movement

Steven Spielberg

In the fall of 2010, New York passed the first ever domestic workers bill of rights, which gives domestic workers the same benefits and rights that many other workers have had for years. The passing of this law marked a huge victory for domestic workers’ rights activists, and may have served to pave the way for one of the newest labor laws in California, now under consideration. Although the bill has not yet been officially introduced in the state legislation process, there is a growing movement in the state to support it.

California labor laws have long been known to favor employees, often providing them with more benefits and flexibility than other states. Consider the California Family Rights Act, which, among other things, grants employees more lenient leave provisions than those of the Family and Medical Leave Act. So it’s no surprise that the state would follow quickly on the heels of New York in working to grant domestic workers solid rights and protections.

So what, exactly, are the legal aspects of the proposed bill of rights? Well, those activists and labor rights groups lobbying for such legislation seem to have largely modeled it off of the current New York laws. The campaign for the California bill recommends some very basic, but essential rights for these workers.

  1. The right to cook their own food and to receive at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep. These rights are important because many workers live at their place of work, and because of that, some have lost their ability to make decisions for themselves regarding these basic human functions.
  2. Another right in the list is the right to receive paid sick and vacation leave as well as overtime pay. This right aligns with the majority of rights other employees receive. Domestic workers are especially abused regarding overtime pay, as many work more than forty hours a week for standard rates.
  3. Finally, the right to three weeks notice before termination is listed in this bill to protect their source of income as well as their home. Because many workers live where they work, a sudden termination could also take away their shelter. This protection would allow them to have some time to seek out other places to live and other jobs.

These are just a few of the key rights listed in the proposed bill; for a full look at all of the proposed rights, check out the National Domestic Worker Alliance campaign for the bill.

The legal consequences of this would essentially force employers of domestic workers to honor these rights or else face lawsuits from employees whose rights were infringed. However, despite the typically one-sided employee labor laws in California, there’s no real word yet as to whether or not this law will actually make it through the legislative process. So, there could still be a long road ahead for its advocates.

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