In February this year, the state of California took a bold and groundbreaking move—that of issuing safety guidelines for employers of domestic service workers such as nannies, home cleaners, and home carers. These employees have traditionally been left out of worker safety protections, leaving them vulnerable to a host of accidents and injuries. Just a few potentially dangerous situations employees can face include breathing in toxic cleaning products, exposing their skin to harsh chemicals, and catching a contagious illness from homeowners. The state has gone even further. A new bill filed in the Senate sponsored by the California Domestic Workers Coalition seeks to issue official safety rules that all employers of domestic workers need to follow.
The New Bill
The new bill was filed by California state senator, María Elena Durazo. It is the result of a report published in January by an advisory committee comprising employees, advocates, and occupational safety experts. If the bill is passed, it will put California considerably in the lead compared to most other states. California already has a positive track record in worker safety as a whole. California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico require employees to receive short-term disability coverage—something which not all states do. Four of these states (California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) also provide paid family leave benefits. Currently, California boasts a compensation settlement chart for workers that advocates consider to be fair and reasonable. For instance, it offers a temporary disability rate of two-thirds of averages weekly wages. Extending these and/or other benefits to domestic workers would certainly bring compensation law to its intent, which is to provide safe working conditions to all employees and to compensate them financially for damages or injuries suffered.
Why Are Domestic Workers Currently Excluded?
The exclusion of domestic workers from safety laws hails back to what historians deem a concession to Southern legislators. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 excluded farmworkers and domestic employees from its scope. These jobs were mainly performed by black workers post-Reconstruction. The same exclusions applied to federal work healthy and safety laws years later, which makes little sense. As is the case for all employees, domestic workers can be subject to grave danger. For instance, during the California wildfires, many domestic workers were obligated to work in evacuation areas and to clean homes when homes were still rife with smoke and ash.
One possible drawback to the new bill are complaints that extending rights to domestic workers may pose a burden to people from low incomes who require assistance in their homes. However, as pointed out by Disability Rights CA lobbyist Gregory Cramer, protecting these workers could motivate them to stay in the caretaking profession. Doing so would create more supply, which would result in reasonable costs for employers in the long run.
California has taken a step that other states should emulate. These include the presentation of a new bill in the state that seeks to protect domestic workers. The latter are often called to perform difficult and, sometimes, potentially dangerous tasks. Like all employees, they should be ensured safe working conditions and due compensation if they are injured at work.
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