30 September 2016
30 September 2016,
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Domestic Workers Bill Of Rights Act

The efforts of a five-year grassroots campaign to improve working protections for domestic workers have succeeded. Further championing the workers’ rights, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed HB1288 into law, which goes into effect January 1, 2017.

The law, known as the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights Act, amends and updates several previously enacted laws and legal acts by the Illinois legislature to now include the estimated 35,000 domestic workers who provide services in the State of Illinois. This employment group is growing, and in fact, according to the group Caring Across America, by the year 2020 there will be more caregivers than teachers in the United States.

Who Are Domestic Workers?

Domestic workers include house cleaners, home care aides, nannies and workers in similar fields. Recently, there has been publicly voiced concern about the lack of decent pay and workplace protections for this critical segment of the Illinois workforce. Proponents of the new measure successfully made the argument that it will become increasingly difficult to build and maintain a reliable and experienced domestic workforce, one that is able to meet the needs of Illinois families, without increased protections.

As in many states across the country, domestic workers are a critical segment of the workforce in Illinois. They support the health and prosperity of Illinois families, freeing them to fill other areas of the workforce. Despite this critical role, domestic workers have not been afforded the same protections under Federal and State law as other workers. In fact, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act that covers employees in many industries has excluded domestic workers since 1938.

What were the laws previously?

Although there is a strong history of workers’ rights legislation in Illinois, domestic workers have not been covered to the full extent that workers in other industries have been covered by the employment laws in Illinois.

Mostly due to the wording of existing legislation, domestic workers have not had the same rights regarding wages and time off, or the basic protections any worker should expect, such as safety from sexual harassment. Workers who fought for the new legislation illustrated an industry that is rife with incidents of low wages, wage theft and disrespect on the job. Many domestic workers, because of the lack of protection under the law, do not even earn the minimum wage, and despite long hours and hard work, are living in poverty.

What is the Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights?

With the passage of new legislation, House Bill 1288 makes changes to four Illinois laws in order to remove the exclusion of domestic workers:

  • Illinois Human Rights Act
  • Illinois One Day of Rest in Seven Act
  • Illinois Wages of Women and Minors Act
  • Illinois Minimum Wage Law

As of January 1, 2017,  nannies, home care aides, house cleaners and workers in similar fields will be paid the prevailing minimum wage, will be afforded time off, and can be assured of legal protection from workplace crimes, such as sexual harassment.

Illinois residents who depend on domestic workers for care of their homes and families, as well as the workers who rely on the industry to make a living, will both benefit from these important changes. The legislation comes at an important time, as the domestic worker workforce is growing rapidly, with an increasing number of Illinois families either employing a domestic worker or providing care themselves. The Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights aims to professionalize this critical industry and to ensure that service quality remains high and that working conditions remain fair and safe.

Who is Covered by the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights?

The new law covers all domestic workers including housecleaners, nannies, caregivers, and other domestic service jobs that take place within the home. Workers who work more than 8 hours per week on a regular basis for one or more employers are covered under the new legislation.

Domestic Workers Have the Same Rights as Other Industries

According to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, domestic workers are an invisible workforce in the United States. Statistics show that 95 percent of domestic workers are women and 46 percent are immigrants. Across the country, this invisible workforce has grown in recent years and is now one of the fast-growing segments of the U.S. economy. Experts attribute the growth in domestic workers to the rapidly aging baby boomer population. This shift in the workforce is forcing many states to review the working conditions of domestic workers and to enact laws to improve these conditions in order to ensure a strong and reliable workforce.

With the passage of this groundbreaking legislation, Illinois becomes the seventh state to lead the fight for the rights of domestic workers. Domestic workers in the State of Illinois will now finally enjoy the same workplace rights that workers in other industries take for granted.

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