Domestic workers provide services in a home. These services include housekeeping, cleaning, cooking, home management, and caring for children or adults in their homes.
Domestic workers have the same rights as other workers to minimum wage, overtime, and other wage and hour protections. There are also special rules for domestic workers relating to recordkeeping, rest time, charges for food and lodging, the information they must have about their jobs and rights, and conditions for live-in domestic workers.
Employers must follow all laws for their domestic workers regardless of immigration status.
Au pairs are domestic workers protected by the Massachusetts minimum wage, overtime, and Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (DWBOR) laws.
Notice of rights
Every domestic worker must receive a notice of their employment rights under state and federal law from their employer. An employer can comply with this requirement by providing the Attorney General's notice.
Employers must give domestic workers who work 16 or more hours a week a written agreement that includes information about:
- Regular and overtime rate of pay
- Raises or increases in pay for added duties or skills
- Work schedule and job duties
- Rest periods, sick leave, holidays, vacation, personal days
- Any other benefits
- Charges or pay deductions
- Eligibility for workers’ compensation
- Process for raising and resolving concerns
- Notice of termination by the worker or employer
- Why and when the employer will enter the worker's living space (live-in workers)
- What is “cause” for termination (live-in workers)
This agreement must be in written in a language the worker easily understands, signed by the worker and employer, and made before work begins. Employers and workers may use the Attorney General’s sample template below. The employer must keep the agreement on file for at least 3 years.
Payroll and timekeeping records
Employers of domestic workers must keep payroll records and provide paystubs. Records should be kept for 3 years.
Domestic workers who work 16 or more hours a week must receive a timesheet at least every two weeks that shows the number of hours worked each day. The timesheet should be signed or acknowledged by both the worker and employer. A worker who disagrees with the number of hours listed has the right to make a note on the timesheet of the hours the worker believes he or she worked. Signing a timesheet does not mean that the worker cannot later claim any additional wages owed. Failure to sign a timesheet does not allow an employer to delay or withhold pay.
Domestic workers who work 40 or more hours a week must get at least 1 full day (24 hours) off each week and 2 full days (48 hours) off each month. A worker can give up this rest period through a written agreement with the employer. The agreement must be in a language the worker easily understands and must be made before the specified rest period is missed. If the worker then works more than 40 hours during the week, then the worker must be paid overtime.
If the worker is on duty for less than 24 hours, the employer must pay for all meal, rest, and sleeping periods, unless the worker has no work duties and is allowed to leave during those times.
If the worker is required to be on duty for 24 hours or more, the worker and employer may agree that some meal periods, rest periods, or sleep periods up to 8 hours will not be counted as paid working time.
Deductions for meals and housing
Employers are not allowed to deduct money from a worker's pay unless the law allows it or the employee asked for the deduction for the worker's own benefit.
Employers may charge for food, drinks, or housing that they provide to the worker, but only if the employee voluntarily accepts these for his or her own benefit and the following conditions are met:
- Food and drinks - Deductions are allowed only if the worker can bring, prepare, store, and eat and drink the foods s/he prefers. If the worker cannot do so because of household dietary restrictions, then the employer may not charge for the food or drink provided to the worker. The employer may charge for the actual cost of the food and drink, up to $1.50 for breakfast and $2.25 for lunch or dinner.
The employer may not make deductions unless the worker agrees voluntarily to these deductions in writing in a language the worker easily understands. The agreement must be made before any deductions are made.
- Housing - An employer must not deduct the cost of a room or other housing if the employer requires the worker to live in that place. An employer may deduct the cost of housing only if the worker chooses to live there and the housing meets the local and state health code standards for heat, water, and light. The employer must not charge more than: $35 a week for a room with 1 person; $30 a week for a room with 2 people; or $25 a week for a room with 3 or more people. The employer may not make deductions unless the worker agrees voluntarily to these deductions in writing in a language the worker easily understands. The agreement must be made before any deductions are made.
Privacy and freedom to come and go
Workers have the right to privacy, even if they live in the employer’s home. An employer must not:
- Monitor or record private living or sleeping spaces, or bathroom, dressing or undressing activities
- Limit, interfere with, monitor or record private communications
- Take, destroy, hide or keep passports or any documents or belongings
- Force an individual to work by:
- Hurting or restraining the worker, causing the worker financial harm or threatening to do so, or
- Abusing the law or legal process or by other illegal method
Employers must not discriminate
Employers must not discriminate in hiring, pay, or other terms of employment based on a worker's:
- Race, color, religion, national origin, or ancestry
- Sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression
- Genetic information or disability
- Military service
Live-in workers: phone and Internet access
Employers who have phone or Internet service must give workers free and reasonable access to those services.
If they do not have phone or Internet service, they must allow reasonable opportunities to access those services elsewhere at the workers' own expense.
Live-in workers: termination
Workers who live in their employer's home or in another place required by their employer have certain additional rights if the employer fires them or lays them off. Unless a domestic worker is fired for cause, the employer must give the worker:
- Written notice; and
- At least 30 days of housing where the worker is now or in similar housing OR severance pay equal to average pay for 2 weeks. If the employer chooses to provide housing at another location or severance pay, the worker must have at least 24 hours to move out.
If the employer fires a domestic worker for cause, the employer must provide:
- Advance written notice; and
- A reasonable opportunity of at least 48 hours to move out.
If the employer makes a written statement in good faith saying that the worker did something that harmed the employer or his/her family or household, the employer can:
- End the employment without notice, and
- Give the worker no severance pay or time to find new housing.
Important! No matter what the reason for ending the employment, the employer must pay the worker all wages owed, including all earned, unused paid vacation time, on the last day of work.
Injuries at work
A worker who gets hurt while on the job may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Even if the employer does not have worker’s compensation insurance, workers who miss more than 5 days of work because of work-related injury or illness may be able to get compensated for medical care and lost wages. For more information, contact the Department of Industrial Accidents at (617) 727-4900.
Employers must not retaliate
An employer must not punish or discriminate against a domestic worker for exercising his or her rights. This applies to all workers, regardless of immigration status. If an employer reports or threatens to report an undocumented worker to immigration authorities for complaining about a violation, the employer can be prosecuted and/or subject to civil penalties.
More helpful resources
Read the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights law and regulations and download sample work evaluations.