This story originally ran on SCC Insight.
This week council member Teresa Mosqueda is introducing a “domestic workers’ bill of rights,” an ordinance that establishes several rights and protections for domestic workers in Seattle.
Under the ordinance, a “domestic worker” is someone who provides services to an individual or household in a private home, and whose primary occupation is nanny, house cleaner, home care worker, gardener, cook, and/or household manager. It includes both hourly and salaried employees, as well as independent contractors, full-time and part-time workers, and temp workers. It does not include:
- - Someone working on a casual basis (irregular, uncertain or incidental; and different from the worker’s regular occupation);
- - Someone with a family relationship with the employer;
- - A live-in worker;
- - A home care worker paid with public funds.
The ordinance sets a minimum wage for domestic workers equivalent to the “schedule 2” employers under the city’s minimum wage ordinance, which is the rate for employers with less than 500 employees. That is currently $11.50 per hour, with annual increases through 2024.
It also sets rules for rest breaks. Domestic workers must get a 30-minute meal break for every five consecutive hours of work. They must also get a 10-minute rest break for every four consecutive hours worked, but the break must occur before the fourth hour – it can’t be stuck at the end of the four hours. This parallels state rules for rest and meal breaks.
The ordinance also specifies that employers may not retain any of the worker’s original documents (such as their passport or other immigration documents). Unscrupulous employers will often do this to force employees to keep working for them despite low/nonexistent pay and intolerable working conditions. And the ordinance prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who file complaints with the city over violations of the ordinance – in particular, it prohibits reporting or threatening to report someone to immigration officials in retaliation for filing a complaint.
As for remedies, there are different ones specified depending upon the offense. For compensation-related violations, the ordinance awards full unpaid compensation plus interest for an employer’s first violation of the ordinance, and double compensation plus interest for subsequent violations. It also lays out increasing civil penalties for violations: $500 per aggrieved party for the first violation, $1,000 for the second violation, and up to $5,000 per subsequent violation. Though for compensation-related ones it allows the city to waive the penalties if the unpaid compensation is paid within 15 days of the ruling as encouragement to get money into the workers’ hands as fast as possible.
The ordinance grants a private right of action for workers who have suffered financial harm against employers who violate the rules, so that a domestic worker may file suit to be made whole. The right of action includes attorneys’ fees and other legal costs, which is intended to encourage attorneys to take domestic workers’ cases even if the amount of money the worker is entitled to is relatively small.
Finally, the ordinance creates a Domestic Workers’ Standards Board to advise the city on issues related to “the legal protections, benefits, and working conditions for domestic worker industry standards.” The board is initially 9 members, growing to 13 in 2020. Four members are appointed by the Mayor, four by the City Council, and one by the other Board members. The Board will contain both domestic workers and employers of domestic workers.
This Thursday morning, Mosqueda will hold the first public discussion on the proposed ordinance in her committee.