There is a good deal of confusion regarding the proper treatment of domestic employees for wage hour purposes.  Well, the New Jersey Legislature has sought to address some of these concerns in the New Jersey Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights (S723/A822).  This law specifically sets forth certain rules that employers must follow regarding their household employees.  The law becomes effective in July 2024.

The new law places these workers under the protection of the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law.  It defines “domestic worker” as someone working in a residence and who is “caring for a child; serving as a companion or caretaker for a sick, convalescing, or elderly person, or a person with a disability; housekeeping or house cleaning; cooking; providing food or butler service; parking cars; cleaning laundry; gardening; personal organizing, or for any other domestic service purpose.”  Some individuals who care for family members are excluded from the coverage of the statute.

The law requires that employers advise their domestic employees of their coverage (and protection) under the statute.  Importantly, it requires meal and rest breaks for these workers.  The employer must give a thirty minute lunch period after five hours of work; the worker must not do any work during this time and be able to leave the premises.  If these conditions are not met, the time becomes compensable.  The worker must also get a break of ten minutes for every four hours worked.  Those employees who are “live ins” must also receive an unpaid day off after six straight days of working.

Significantly, although there are exceptions, the employer who seeks to seeks to separate a domestic worker must provide two weeks’ notice.  For a live-in worker, that notice period becomes four weeks.  There are some exceptions to this requirement.  If the worker commits a n act of “significant” misconduct, that worker may be immediately discharged.  The NJDOL will be promulgating regulations to implement and clarify(?) the new statute, as well as establishing a channel where complaints may be filed by these workers.

The Takeaway

It will be a new playing field for domestic employers in a few months.  Probably a better one because now that (certain) rights are defined, the employer is better able to deal with the situation.  I have defended many domestic worker overtime lawsuits and they are difficult to defend.  Now, maybe they get easier.  When I am brought in before a lawsuit, I always write an agreement for the worker to sign, outlining work requirements, work hours, time off etc. and I strongly urge employers to do that.  Also, it is essential that the employer keep track, in some manner, of the hours worked by the domestic on a daily and weekly basis. 

As always, employers must protect themselves…