Domestic workers have rights, too

Dear Working Wise: There has been a lot of talk recently about domestic workers, like live-in caregivers and nannies, being treated unfairly by their employers. What are the rules for domestic workers? — Domestic Bliss

Dear Working Wise: There has been a lot of talk recently about domestic workers, like live-in caregivers and nannies, being treated unfairly by their employers.

What are the rules for domestic workers? — Domestic Bliss

Dear Domestic Bliss: A domestic employee is someone working in their employer’s residence, for the care, comfort and convenience of members of that residence. Traditionally this has meant nannies for young children, but could also include elder care and care for persons with disabilities.

The federal government’s ( Live-in Caregiver program allows a worker from another country to come and work in Canada on a temporary basis.

Employers must have sufficient income to be able to pay the worker and provide acceptable accommodation. They must also show that the job offer is primarily care-giving duties for a child or an elderly or disabled person, and not housecleaning.

Generally, families seeking this type of employee would go to an employment agency.

Just last month the Alberta government repealed a decades-old exemption that allowed employment agencies to charge extra fees to nannies or live-in caregivers to work in private homes. Agencies that connect domestic workers with jobs will also be licensed by the province and subject to rules against misrepresenting working conditions or wages to prospective employees.

The changes take effect Sept. 1.

Regardless of whether the domestic employee comes from Canada or abroad, they are entitled to the same minimum wage, and general (statutory) holidays with pay as any other worker in the province. Casual babysitting is not considered domestic employment.

Domestic employees may live in their employer’s home, or elsewhere, but there are different standards for each class.

For domestic employees who live in their employer’s home:

• the minimum wage is $1,677 per month, regardless of the number of hours worked (pro-rating is permitted where the employee agrees to work a portion of a month, such as mornings only); and

• there are limits to the deductions for room and board that employers may take (the maximum allowable deduction per meal is $2.89 and lodging is $3.82 per night).

For domestic employees who don’t live in their employer’s home, the minimum wage of $8.80 per hour applies for all hours worked.

For example, an employee who works nine hours in a day is entitled to $79.20 ($8.80 x 9 hours). Meal deductions cannot exceed $2.89 per meal.

All domestic employees are also entitled to:

• a statement of earnings and deductions for each pay period;

• a rest period of at least 30 minutes, paid or unpaid, during each shift of five consecutive hours or more;

• at least one day of rest in each week;

• vacations and vacation pay;

• notice of termination of employment; and

• maternity and parental leave.

Domestic employees are exempt from overtime compensation.

Alberta’s Employment Standards Code does not address benefits such as sick leave, dental coverage and bereavement leave. These benefits are negotiated between the employer and employee.

Issues do arise and they are often simply misunderstandings between the employer and employee, but domestic workers should know that they have rights.

Any worker with questions or concerns can call Alberta Employment Standards toll-free at 1-877-427-3731. Complaints about criminal behaviour should be reported to local police.

Working Wise is compiled weekly by Charles Strachey, a regional manager with Alberta Employment and Immigration. Work-related questions can be sent to him at Working Wise is provided for general information only. Help with specific situations is available through Alberta Employment Standards by calling 1-877-427-3731.

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