Organization Sign-On Letter
Dear Councilmembers of the District of Columbia,
We write to urge you to protect thousands of domestic workers in Washington D.C. by supporting legislation that would eliminate a coverage exclusion to the D.C Human Rights Act for employers of “domestic servants” – e.g. nannies, house cleaners, home-care workers, and other household workers. It is critical that we ensure that D.C.’s Human Rights Act protects some of our most vulnerable workers. Councilmember Charles Allen seeks to introduce legislation on this important issue in January 2019.
“Domestic servants” are the only group of employees excluded from the anti-discrimination protections of the D.C. Human Rights Act. This exclusion has its roots in slavery and racism. Today, the majority of domestic workers continue to be women of color and are increasingly immigrants. For this reason alone, it should be eliminated without delay.
Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to discrimination – especially sexual harassment, discrimination based on pregnancy, and racial and ethnic discrimination. Experts agree that sexual harassment is more about power than it is about sex; it follows then, that workers who are already among the most marginalized would suffer this abuse at higher rates than other workers.
Women who work as domestic employees are typically from marginalized groups; they have intimate relationships with their employers; and their work is performed behind the closed doors of a private home. Domestic workers also earn low wages; poor people are less able to consider quitting their jobs when they experience abuse because they have no savings to fall back on while they are searching for another job. It is difficult to get another job as a disfavored nanny/house cleaner/home care worker because of the importance of personal job references and recommendations in that employment sector.
According to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, there are more than 2 million nannies, house cleaners, and home-based care workers for the elderly and disabled in the United States, including more than 100,000 in the Washington region. Yet, despite being excluded from most federal labor laws, domestic workers enjoy more protections in D.C. than in other jurisdictions. In D.C., families who employ a nanny or other domestic help are considered employers for the purposes of the wage laws, workers’ compensation, and unemployment compensation; there is no reason other than historical institutionalized racism and sexism that they should not be afforded protection against sexual harassment and discrimination as well.
Given the flood of sexual harassment allegations that have inundated the media outlets and the public over the last year, it is obvious that this is a poorly addressed social problem that requires additional attention to resolve. It is unacceptable that some of the most marginalized workers in our community are afforded no legal protection in the workplace against discrimination and harassment. Passing a law to protect them won’t magically guarantee their safety or restore their dignity, but it is a good start. Moreover, it expresses the community’s view that the behavior is unacceptable; that violators should be punished; and that victims should be entitled to protection.
We urge you to support Councilmember Allen’s legislation to remove the domestic worker exclusion in the DCHRA and support prompt action on this important issue. Thank you.
First Shift Justice Project
National Domestic Workers Alliance
Amara Legal Center
Bread for the City
D.C. Jobs With Justice
Jews United for Justice
Hand in Hand, The Domestic Employers Network
Mariana Strategies, PLLC
National Women’s Law Center
Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
*Citations omitted for simplicity. Complete version of the letter available upon request.