Protecting Domestic Workers in New York State: An Analysis

By Esther Claudette Gittens

Domestic workers, including nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers, play a crucial role in the functioning of many households.  Most immigrants, that is, women, from the Caribbean, Africa, Latin America and even Eastern Europe who have these jobs are for the most part treated humanely and professionally.  They help their bosses with their parents, their children and other family members who they treat with love and respect and many times the care givers become surrogate family members.

But unfortunately, despite their essential contributions, these workers are often vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. New York State has implemented several measures to protect domestic workers from wage theft, discrimination, physical and mental abuse, and immigration blackmail, whether they live in their employer’s home or not. This analysis examines the legislative framework, enforcement mechanisms, and support services available to domestic workers in New York State.

Legislative Framework – The Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights

In 2010, New York State enacted the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, the first of its kind in the United States. This landmark legislation provides comprehensive protections for domestic workers, including:

  • Minimum Wage and Overtime: Domestic workers are entitled to the state minimum wage and overtime pay at 1.5 times their regular rate for hours worked over 40 in a week.
  • Days of Rest: Workers must receive one day of rest per week, or be paid overtime if they agree to work on their day off.
  • Paid Leave: After one year of employment, domestic workers are entitled to three days of paid leave annually.
  • Protection from Discrimination and Harassment: The law prohibits harassment and discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or other protected characteristics.

Labor Law Protections

New York’s labor laws extend additional protections to domestic workers, including:

  • Payment of Wages: Employers must pay workers on a regular payday and provide a statement detailing the hours worked and wages paid.
  • Notice of Pay Rate: Workers must receive written notice of their pay rate, including overtime rates and any deductions.
  • Record-Keeping: Employers are required to keep detailed records of hours worked and wages paid for six years.

Enforcement Mechanisms – New York State Department of Labor (DOL)

The DOL plays a central role in enforcing labor laws and the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. Workers can file complaints with the DOL, which investigates allegations of wage theft, overtime violations, and other labor law breaches. The DOL has the authority to impose penalties on employers who violate these laws and to recover unpaid wages for workers.

Legal Assistance and Advocacy Organizations

Several organizations provide legal assistance and advocate for domestic workers’ rights, including:

  • Domestic Workers United (DWU): A prominent organization that advocates for the rights and dignity of domestic workers through policy advocacy, education, and support services.
  • National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA): Offers legal support, resources, and advocacy to improve working conditions for domestic workers nationwide, with a significant presence in New York.
  • The Law Firm of Figeroux & Associates: Provides egal services to low-income workers, including assistance with wage theft claims and discrimination cases.

The Human Rights Law

New York’s Human Rights Law extends anti-discrimination protections to domestic workers. The New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR) investigates complaints of discrimination and harassment, offering another avenue for workers to seek redress. The DHR can order employers to pay damages and implement corrective actions.

Protection from Physical and Mental Abuse, Criminal Laws and Law Enforcement

Domestic workers are protected under New York’s criminal laws against physical and mental abuse. Employers who physically harm or mentally abuse workers can face criminal charges, including assault, harassment, and endangerment. Workers can report abuse to local law enforcement, which can lead to criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Safe Harbor and Support Services

New York offers support services to domestic workers who experience abuse, including:

  • Safe Horizon: Provides emergency shelter and counseling to victims of domestic violence and abuse.
  • Sanctuary for Families: Offers comprehensive services, including counseling, and safe housing for victims of domestic violence and trafficking.

Immigration Blackmail and Protections

  • U and T Visas: Domestic workers who are undocumented are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and immigration-related threats. New York supports the federal U and T visa programs, which provide temporary legal status to victims of certain crimes, including trafficking, who cooperate with law enforcement.
  • Sanctuary Policies: New York has implemented sanctuary policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. These policies aim to protect undocumented workers from deportation threats used as blackmail by abusive employers. 

Legal Services and Advocacy

The Law Firm of Figeroux & Associates, which has over 25 years of experience practicing immigration law, offers legal services and representation to undocumented workers facing immigration-related exploitation. The Firm helps workers apply for U and T visas and provides legal representation in immigration and labor disputes.

Live-In vs. Non Live-In Workers

Live-in domestic workers often face unique challenges, including:

  • Work Hour Exploitation: Because they reside in their employer’s home, live-in workers can be subjected to excessive work hours without proper compensation. The Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights mandates overtime pay for live-in workers and requires that they receive adequate rest and privacy.
  • Privacy and Personal Space: Employers must provide live-in workers with a private, lockable room and reasonable access to cooking facilities and bathrooms.
  • On-Call Time: The DOL regulations stipulate that live-in workers must be compensated for on-call time if they are not free to leave the premises or engage in personal activities.

Non live-in workers, while not facing the same level of control over their personal space, still face significant challenges:

  • Commuting Issues: Non live-in workers often incur significant travel expenses and time, which can affect their overall compensation and quality of life.
  • Work Hour Tracking: Ensuring accurate tracking and compensation for hours worked is crucial. Employers must maintain precise records and adhere to pay schedules.


New York State has established a robust framework to protect domestic workers from wage theft, discrimination, physical and mental abuse, and immigration blackmail. Through the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, stringent labor laws, and comprehensive support services, the state strives to safeguard the rights and well-being of these essential workers. While significant progress has been made, ongoing efforts by government agencies, advocacy organizations, and the community are necessary to ensure that all domestic workers receive the respect, dignity, and protection they deserve.

Legal Guidance

If you believe you have been discriminated against, contact the experienced Civil Rights Law Firm of Figeroux and Associates today. Call 855-768-8875 or visit to schedule an appointment.

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