Jobs and Employment
Domestic Workers Information
This information last reviewed: 8/25/2014

Domestic workers, such as nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers, provide household labor in private homes. Domestic workers are excluded from many federal and state labor laws, but they still have some legal protection, especially under New Jersey state law.

Home health care workers, also referred to as caregivers or companions to the sick, disabled, or elderly, are also domestic workers. They live inside or outside of the household in which they provide care and can be employed by a household or by an agency

Casual, part-time babysitters are exempt from both federal and New Jersey employment laws and are not included when the term “domestic worker” is used here.

Many domestic workers are immigrants, and some are undocumented immigrants. Most of the labor laws discussed below protect domestic workers regardless of their immigration status. For example, immigration status does not affect the right to be paid or eligibility for workers compensation. However, undocumented workers are not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

For information regarding unpaid wages or overtime, see Wages and Hours.

Minimum wage and Overtime

Under federal law:

Home health care workers are exempt from both federal minimum wage and overtime laws. Live-in domestic workers are exempt only from federal overtime laws but are entitled to the federal minimum wage of $8.25 per hour.

Under New Jersey law:

All domestic workers are covered by both New Jersey minimum wage and overtime laws.

The current minimum wage in New Jersey is $8.25 per hour.

An employer must schedule payday ahead of time with the worker. Employees must be paid at least twice a month, and no more than 10 days after the end of the pay period. If employment ends for any reason, the worker must be paid by the next regularly scheduled payday. The employer cannot force the worker to accept direct deposit of wages, but it can be an option.

All domestic workers, including home health care and live-in domestic workers, are entitled to overtime pay of one and a half times the regular hourly rate for every hour worked over 40 hours.

Sleep Time & On-Call Time

Under federal law:

Employees who are required to be on duty for less than 24 hours at a time are considered to be working the whole time that they are on duty, even if the employer provides a place to sleep and the employee is allowed to sleep or do other personal activities during down-time.

Employees who are on duty for more than 24 hours at a time must be paid for the full time, including sleep and meal periods, unless the employer and employee make an agreement to exclude sleeping time. This agreement is only valid if the employer provides adequate sleeping facilities, the sleep-time exclusion is limited to eight hours, and the employee is able to get an uninterrupted night of sleep (meaning at least five hours of sleep). If the employee cannot get five hours of sleep, the entire scheduled sleeping period counts as hours worked.

Live-in domestic workers, who live on the employer’s premises, are not considered to be working or on duty for the whole time they are on the employer’s premises.

Under NJ law:

The time that an employee is required to be at his or her place of work should be counted as hours worked. When employees are not required to stay on the employer’s premises and are free to spend time for personal pursuits, only time actually spent working counts as hours worked for the purposes of wage payment.

If an employee is called to work by the employer, he or she must be paid for at least one hour, even if the employee is immediately sent home. If an employee is called to work so frequently or if the employee’s on-call time is so restricted that he or she was not free to use the time effectively for personal pursuits, the waiting time counts as hours worked.

Live-in domestic workers and other employees who have irregular on-duty hours must be paid for at least 8 hours of each day on duty.

Meal and Rest Breaks

Under federal law:

Employers are not required to provide a meal or rest break. However, if the employer does provide rest breaks, from five to 20 minutes, that time is payable to the worker as time worked.

Under New Jersey law:

Employers are not required to provide a meal or rest break

Deductions

Under federal law:

Employers are allowed to deduct a reasonable cost of meals or lodging provided to the worker, even if those reductions bring the worker’s pay  below minimum wage.

Under New Jersey law:

Employers are allowed to make food and lodging deductions, but they must keep record of the costs. Deductions are limited to the “fair value,” which cannot be more than the actual cost and cannot include profit to the employer. Employers may not count items that primarily benefit themselves as a deduction.

If the employer-provided lodging violates any laws or if no fair market rental value exists for the lodging in the competitive open market, fair value is considered zero, and the employer cannot deduct such lodging costs from pay.

Workers Compensation

Domestic workers are entitled to workers compensation. Immigration status has no bearing on eligibility. Claims must be filed within two years of the accident.

For more information on Workers Compensation, see Workers Compensation.

Discrimination

Federal discrimination laws exclude or most often do not apply to domestic workers because they only apply when employers have multiple employees.

Federal discrimination laws regarding race and disability only apply to employers who have at least 15 employees, and laws regarding age discrimination only apply to employers who have at least 20 employees.

In New Jersey, the Law Against Discrimination and the Discrimination in Wages Law specifically exempt domestic workers from protection.

For more information on discrimination, see Employment Discrimination.

Record-Keeping

It is important to keep records of wages, deductions, and hours worked whenever possible. Domestic workers are commonly paid in cash, making it harder to prove eligibility for benefits or wage claims.

In New Jersey, all employers are required to keep detailed records of wages and working conditions for six years. Any employer who makes deductions from wages for food and lodging must keep records of those deductions.

Employment Agency Fees

New Jersey employment agencies are allowed to charge workers a fee. If a worker is discharged without cause or quits for just cause, the worker may not be charged more than one percent of the total fee for each day worked and is entitled to a refund of any additional money already paid to the agency.

More information

For more information, including sample documents such as a sample employment contract and a work log, see the National Employment Law Project’s handbook, Rights Begin at Home: Protecting Yourself as a Domestic Worker.