What Many Still Don’t Know About Domestic Worker Rights in Seattle

Maid wearing a COVID mask

In July 2018, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance granting domestic workers—such as house cleaners, nannies, gardeners, and home attendants—basic worker rights that they have long been excluded from. This municipal ordinance has proven to be a model for other cities and will help shape the future of labor laws on a national scale.

In the city of Seattle alone, there are over 30,000 domestic workers. Seattle’s ordinance is in the forefront of similar labor laws, and yet many employers, workers, and legal professionals are not aware of the current legal obligations for employers. In fact, many employers of domestic workers are not even aware that they are counted as “hiring entities,” what their legal obligations are, or how the law is enforced. 

“As an employer of a nanny and a house cleaner, I learned about the ordinance and best practices for hiring entities through the outreach efforts of Hand in Hand,” said Julie Horowitz, an employer of nannies and house cleaners. Hand in Hand offers resources and support to domestic employers throughout the county to both comply with local and state ordinances and institute best practices to increase safety and fairness for the workers in their homes.

“I wanted to be a fair employer, who lives my values of supporting the rights of domestic workers,” Horowitz added. “But never having been a domestic employer, and never having anticipated or prepared for this role, I didn’t know all of the aspects of what to think through, how best to create a contract, knowing what break times should be, and many other elements. Our societal norms of undervaluing domestic workers and the racism and sexism that underpin this is so pervasive, despite the critically important role that domestic workers play in supporting the well-being of our families. It took active learning and seeking to understand the elements of creating a fair, supportive workplace.”

Other cities have followed Seattle’s model, including Philadelphia’s Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, which went into effect May 1, 2020. And in July 2019, U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Seattle), along with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris, introduced a national Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act, which is likely to be part of the agenda of the new administration.

Interested WSBA members have the opportunity to learn about this ordinance and to connect with organizations like Hand in Hand by registering for the CLE “The Seattle Domestic Workers Ordinance,” which is free on-demand through Jan. 14. You can find more information about Hand in Hand here.

Now, more than ever, with the rise in COVID-19 cases, good communication and fair employment practices can provide a healthy home environment for households and workers alike, especially those most vulnerable.