When thinking about employment rights, many people overlook the thousands of domestic workers in Illinois. Many domestic workers are unseen as they clean our homes or offices when we are not there. However, many employers are taking advantage of domestic workers, especially workers who are recent immigrants and do not understand their rights. A new bill was signed into law in Illinois to protect domestic workers.
Governor Bruce Rauner signed the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights Act into law on August 12, 2016. Illinois is the most recent addition to a growing number of states that are beginning to recognize the rights of domestic workers, including Connecticut, Oregon, Massachusetts, and California. However, the majority of states still have not passed specific legislation to protect these vulnerable workers.
In many states, home care workers who take care of individuals with disabilities, children, and seniors are paid less than minimum wage and do not receive overtime pay. According to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the average income for a homecare worker in the U.S. is less than $20,000 a year. Over half of domestic workers have to rely on public benefits to survive.
Domestic workers include housekeepers, home care workers, nannies, caregivers, and individuals giving assistance in homes or private residences. More than 20% of workers are paid below the minimum wage. Two-thirds of live-in workers are paid below the minimum wage, with the average pay amounting to only $6.15 per hour. Only a small percentage of domestic workers receive retirement or pension benefits or employer-provided insurance.
Advocates for domestic workers say employers take advantage of these workers who are primarily immigrant women and women of color. 90% of domestic workers are women, and more than half are women of color. With the elderly population estimated to grow by almost 200% by the year 2050, the economy will need a great deal more quality homecare workers. Higher pay and more stable working conditions may go a long way to reducing the industry's high turnover rates.
The new Illinois law, which goes into effect on January 1, 2017, will guarantee certain rights to domestic workers. This includes protections under the Minimum Wage Law, the Illinois Human Rights Act, the One Day of Rest in Seven Act, and the Wages of Women and Minors Act.
Isabel Escobar, a housekeeper from Chicago celebrated the new law. “This moment marks a great victory,” said Escobar. “Most importantly, we can now come out of the shadows, to end injustice and abuse. The struggle was long, but we won the most difficult part of the journey.”
If you or a family member have been discriminated against in doing domestic work, it is important to speak out so that this kind of mistreatment does not go. If an employer is retaliating against you, they may be doing the same thing to others. Speak with an experienced employment law attorney who understands your rights and will fight to protect your job. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients and their families the justice they deserve.