October 20, 2022
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Domestic Worker Rights in the Pandemic

The hardest hit demographic during the coronavirus pandemic has been the world’s elderly population, but what can be missing from the reporting is the precarious employment of many domestic workers and senior caregivers whose work has been affected by the lockdowns. Take for example this article in the New York Times about a domestic caregiver in Florida. 

Melissa L. St. Hilaire is a home care aide who had been working for the same client, a 95 year old woman, for five years. But when the pandemic hit the client’s daughter terminated St. Hilaire’s employment over fear of the virus. This alone was shocking as St. Hilaire had been with the same client for so long. She felt part of the family and to be dismissed summarily hurt.

But beyond the emotional pain, there are serious employment and social ramifications for St. Hilaire as well. Her wages came to $80 a day, and like many care workers, St. Hilaire’s pay never afforded her the opportunity to save. This has put her, like so many, in a precarious position. She had to stop paying rent and what little money she did have is going to feed herself and her family. While the National Domestic Workers Alliance is trying to raise money to be able to provide $400 to every domestic worker, this, like the CARES Act stimulus, is simply not enough to live on. 

In New York State, domestic care workers do have certain employment rights aimed at protecting themselves from this exact situation. Domestic care workers are eligible for unemployment insurance in New York, and we encourage those who have been laid off to apply. If you work directly for a family and they pay you more than $500 per quarter, they must make contributions to the state’s unemployment insurance fund. Agency employees receive similar benefits and protections, depending on the size of the agency. If the family has not been paying their domestic worker on the books, they may be able to go back and do so now, to allow them to receive unemployment benefits and minimize potential penalties.

During this time, you may also be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which we have outlined here.

If you are a domestic worker who is unsure about your rights, we encourage you to visit the Department of Labor website, which hosts the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, as well as fact sheets for workers and employers

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