RD10 - Report on Domestic Service Workers

Executive Summary:

Employed domestic workers must now be paid the minimum wage in Virginia, a significant protection for these workers. When Senate Bill 804 (SB804) passed during the 2020 Session of the General Assembly, the minimum wage exemption for domestic service workers was removed for the first time. Several other provisions of the introduced bill did not advance, and the Secretary of Commerce and Trade was directed to convene a work group to review these items.

SB804 directed the Secretary of Commerce and Trade to convene a work group to make recommendations, including any necessary statutory and regulatory changes, with regard to protecting domestic service employees from workplace harassment and discrimination, providing remedies for such employees for the nonpayment of wages, ensuring their safety and health in the workplace, and protecting them from loss of income as a result of unemployment or employment-related injury by including coverage in the Virginia Unemployment Compensation Act and the Virginia Workers' Compensation Act.

Work group members consisted of representatives from the Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI), the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC), the Workers' Compensation Commission, as well as domestic service workers and employers of domestic service workers.

The work group met three times and all three work group meetings were conducted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key Observations

• Domestic service is an incredibly valuable industry.

o Fastest-growing occupations are personal care and home health aides
o There are approximately 60,000 domestic workers in Virginia
o Over 90 percent are female, and more than half are people of color

• Many domestic service workers feel undervalued and invisible and often feel they are not given the dignity and respect they deserve from employers.

• Many domestic service workers are confused about their rights, and for those workers who are undocumented, they are too afraid to speak up and talk to government or law enforcement officials for fear of employers retaliating and/or deportation.

• Domestic service “employee" can mean many different things, and definitions vary in the Virginia Code. SB804 defines “domestic service" as “services related to the care of an individual in a private home or the maintenance of a private home or its premises, on a permanent or temporary basis, including services performed by individuals such as companions, cooks, waiters, butlers, maids, valets, and chauffeurs."

• Domestic service is diverse, with three primary types of employment (along with au pairs): agency employees, household employees, and the self-employed. Each face their own unique challenges.

• The unique nature of domestic service employment (individual family employers, work in private homes, staffing companies, and domestic service employers etc.) poses significant challenges for both workers and employers.

• Behind closed doors, workers can be more vulnerable to sexual harassment, labor exploitation, and unsafe working conditions.

• On their own in the labor market, it can be challenging for workers to get all the information on the protections and resources available to them, and they often suffer from a lack of support systems.

• The cost and recordkeeping required to provide unemployment and workers’ compensation benefits to employees is complex and challenging for domestic service employers, particularly individual and family employers. Exposing individuals and families to civil and criminal penalties for non-compliance is controversial.

• Two work group participants, Ingrid Vaca and Marta Sanchez, each domestic service workers, discussed incidents with mixing chemicals that led to injuries while working. DOLI does have the authority to investigate claims regarding occupational safety, though neither woman contacted DOLI. Many domestic service workers, particularly those who are not proficient in English, may not understand their rights, and they may also be afraid to talk to a state agency official if they are undocumented. DOLI does not ask people who send complaints about their citizenship, but this is likely not widely known.

• Securing a workers’ compensation policy for domestic service workers would be complicated. Workers’ compensation benefits are not publicly funded or paid, and the Workers’ Compensation Commission does not pay benefits, as it is a private insurance system. Employers are required by law to obtain workers’ compensation insurance to cover their employees. SB804 does not address insurance coverage, so it is likely that employers, such as households of domestic service workers, would be required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance for their domestic service employees and would be subject to the same civil and criminal penalties for failure to insure as businesses.

• Domestic service workers who receive at least $1,000 per quarter from a single employer are currently eligible for unemployment benefits. However, many domestic service workers may not be aware of their rights.

The following is a list of work group members:

Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball, Office of Governor Ralph Northam
Chief Workforce Advisor Megan Healy, Office of Governor Ralph Northam
Valerie Braxton-Williams, Virginia Employment Commission
Robert Feild, Department of Labor and Industry
Jim Szablewicz, Workers’ Compensation Commission
Ingrid Vaca, Domestic Worker
Marta Sanchez, Domestic Worker
Jen Jackson, River City Cleaning
Michelle Lane, Middleburg Homecare
Jason El Koubi, Au Pair Employer

The Work Group met on three separate occasions virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the agenda for each meeting and the minutes of each meeting are attached as Appendices A, B, and C.

o Meeting dates:
• August 31, 2020
• September 24, 2020
• October 6, 2020