Domestic workers — including people who care for children, tend gardens and clean other people’s homes — have new rights under a state law that went into effect this summer.
HB22-1367 officially says domestic workers are “employees,” just the same as those who work for a boss at an office or a factory. It went into effect Aug. 10.
That means nannies, gardeners and others are now protected by the state’s civil rights laws, according to employment attorney Rachel Ellis of Livelihood Law.
Domestic workers can now file complaints about discrimination and harassment with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. That could include racial discrimination or sexual harassment by a family hiring a babysitter, for example.
“Previously, there was nothing they could do about it. They weren’t covered in any way (by the civil rights division),” Ellis said. The change “gives you legal recourse. You would have an actual claim to try to negotiate, maybe, with the employee.”
That opens up several opportunities for workers. Many complaints are settled through mediation or a settlement. The CCRD can also intervene, putting pressure on an employer to resolve a complaint, perhaps by having the employer attend training.
The law does note, however, that employers may still intentionally hire a woman or man for a child care position.
The law was sponsored by four Democrats: representatives Susan Lontine and Matt Gray and senators Faith Winter and Brittany Pettersen.
The change helps to undo decades of discrimination against domestic workers, Ellis said.They are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act, passed in 1935. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also exempted small employers from its prohibitions on harassment and discrimination, as Vox reported.
“I would say domestic workers are undervalued, underpaid — and because of racism, sexism, they’ve been unprotected by labor laws,” Ellis said.
She continued: “There was a lot of political pressure to exclude two groups of workers (from earlier labor laws): domestic workers and farm workers. The people that were performing those jobs were primarily Black and Latina. These groups of people were excluded, and it was intentional.”
In some states, domestic workers are not covered by state minimum wage laws, Ellis said. Colorado had already created minimum wage and overtime requirements for domestic workers. With the new law, they’re now on equal legal ground, at least when it comes to discrimination and wage protections, Ellis said.
The new law also includes other changes. Employees now have 10 months, instead of six months, to file claims with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The change matches the timeframe for the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The law also ensures that people filing age discrimination claims can request a trial with a jury in a civil rights case. Unlike with other civil claims, that previously wasn’t guaranteed, Ellis said.
The law passed along party lines. All Republicans opposed it. Some lawmakers raised concerns about the costs that the changes for domestic workers could mean for their employers.
“Again, we’re talking about moms and dads and daughters and sons who are trying to provide services for either their home or their children, their loved ones or their parents. These aren’t well-established businesses that have all the resources at their disposal that businesses have,” said Rep. Stephanie Luck, a Republican, during a floor debate this April.
Luck proposed an amendment at the time that would have allowed employers to recoup their legal costs if they won a court case resulting from a civil rights complaint. The amendment failed. Under the new law, only employees can recoup their legal costs after winning a case.Domestic workers also are the subject of federal debate. Democrats introduced the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act in 2019 and again in 2021, but it has yet to pass.
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