In our own homes: How we can support domestic workers

Illustration of a parent at work and at home with child
Armaan Mumtaz/Staff

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Take Linda, a woman in Richmond who cleans homes for upper-class families in the neighborhoods of Berkeley, Piedmont and Noe Valley. Linda makes an hourly wage, negotiated separately with each family, and does not receive the workplace benefits that many of us expect such as health insurance, paid time off or sick leave. If Linda falls ill, she does not get paid that week and must draw upon her small savings.

Linda is one of the 2 million domestic workers in the United States, most of whom are women of color and/or immigrants. In fact, Black women and other women of color make up more than half of the domestic workforce, while immigrants make up 46%. They serve as house cleaners, nannies and health aides. Most make less than $13 per hour. Their work is undervalued and lacks formal workplace protections. As a result, they are vulnerable to occupational abuses including wage theft, sexual assault, exposure to chemicals or other hazards and human trafficking. Their jobs are the least secure and also the hardest.

This is an area that requires change, and one that we are all empowered to affect. Support the domestic workers in your life by taking the following steps.

First, support the National Domestic Workers Alliance. The NDWA is a network of activist groups across the country. They advocate for basic protections for domestic workers, have built a benefits platform tailored to workers who move from job to job and are also a political organization that promotes candidates who are dedicated to improving lives for domestic workers.

Second, paying domestic workers fairly and reliably can change their lives. 70% of domestic workers are paid less than $13 per hour and the majority do not receive health insurance or pension benefits. A national network of employers of domestic workers recommends paying $15-$20 per hour. Of course, it is important to account for where you live, if the individual is working overtime and whether they have a long commute. Additionally, the NDWA recommends giving the person who cleans your home a bonus around the holidays and a raise every year.

Third, providing these workers with basic benefits can create a secure safety net for them. Most of us hardworking members of the workforce expect basic benefits from our employers – paid time off, health insurance and life insurance. This is not the norm for domestic workers, however. If you and other individuals employ the same domestic worker, consider contributing to their health insurance. One way to do this is through a tool called Alia, an online platform that allows clients of house cleaners to contribute to the benefits of the person who works in their home. You may also want to think about other benefits such as sick leave and paid time off.

Fourth, remember that your home is someone’s workplace. Make sure it is a place where their health and safety are protected. Avoid exposing them to toxic chemicals, and have no tolerance for harassment and discrimination.

Lastly, set clear expectations. Before employing a domestic worker, create a contract. Duties, wages, hours and workplace protections should be specified and both parties should agree to the contract.

All in all, these five simple steps can and will greatly improve the working and living situations of domestic workers across the world. We all must play our part in setting this new norm.

Alix Slosberg is an MBA/MPH student at the Haas School of Business. She has six years of experience in healthcare strategy for government and nonprofit organizations, and is interested in improving health equity for women.