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Student Blog Series: Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act: The Importance of Workplace Protections

Posted: April 6, 2022

With the rise of two parent working households and an aging population, domestic workers will play a substantial role in creating a flexible workforce and a high functioning economy. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that nearly 13% of all new job openings in the next decade are likely to be home-based domestic work. Home based domestic workers are those who perform work in or for a private household. Their jobs may include caring for aging individuals, childcare, cooking, cleaning, gardening, or driving. However, domestic workers are noticeably left out of every existing national labor protection law. This absence of legal protection paired with the isolating nature of domestic work exposes individuals to an increased risk of labor and sex trafficking. These issues have sparked dialog surrounding the delayed adoption of a Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights Act and the immediate need for substantial legal protections.

These concerns are recently addressed by comprehensive legislation known as the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act. The Act addresses five pressing areas of need for domestic workers: 1) fair pay;  2) workplace benefits that map to the reality of work; 3) workplace protections; 4) improved working conditions; and 5) attention to worker classification issues. The Act also aims to create the Domestic Workers Wage and Standards Board, a group consisting of employer and worker representatives who investigate standards in the domestic workers industry and make recommendations to the Department of Labor. The Act further extends key legal safeguards to domestic workers, including written agreements, mandated breaks, fair scheduling practices, and recourse against harassment. Lastly, the Act cites a report by the Department of Labor to emphasize common barriers workers face in accessing health insurance, retirement security, and unemployment benefits. With more than one in three domestic workers identifying as migrant workers, language barriers, immigration status, and high economic vulnerability can create additional obstacles in securing these benefits.

These same vulnerabilities often place domestic workers at a higher risk for trafficking. Traffickers often use a victims’ unfamiliarity with the U.S. to make them believe that they have no other choice but to continue with the work. To further exploit workers, traffickers may also falsely promise educational opportunities, better working conditions, and increased pay. A joint report by Polaris and The National Domestic Workers Alliance showed that approximately 8,000 labor trafficking cases occurred between 2007 and 2017. The highest number of cases, almost 23 percent, involved individuals performing work within their employers’ households. Labor trafficking is commonly underreported due to the dependency of victims on their traffickers and law enforcement’s difficulty identifying victims. Federal legislation like the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would help to empower vulnerable workers to report exploitation and could help minimize the risk of labor trafficking overall. Union organizations, like the Domestic Workers Wage and Standards Board, are strong safeguard against trafficking. Domestic workers can learn more about their rights when they are provided a platform to voice concerns about wages, labor conditions, and working hours.  The individuals who work in domestic spaces deserve to do so for a living wage, and in a safe work environment where they are valued, respected, and protected from trafficking. By adopting legislation such as the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, we take the long overdue steps to help protect these workers.

This piece is part of our first-year law student blog series. Congratulations to author Sarah Urie on being chosen!

All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University.

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