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Seattle domestic worker awarded over $71,000 in first-of-its-kind settlement

The city's Domestic Workers Ordinance was passed on July 1, 2019, to protect nannies, house cleaners, gardeners and cooks working in private homes.

Editor’s note: The video above about Seattle wanting to raise awareness about domestic workers’ rights was originally published in June 2022.

SEATTLE - A Seattle domestic worker was awarded over $71,000 in back wages from an employer in a settlement Friday. The settlement was announced on the third anniversary of a city ordinance designed to give people working in private homes minimum wage, rest break and meal break rights.

The Seattle Office of Labor Standards (OLS) accused a household employer of violating the Domestic Workers Ordinance, Minimum Wage, Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST) and Wage Theft Ordinances.

The employer allegedly failed to pay the correct minimum wage for part of the live-in domestic worker's employment, did not provide PSST or pay overtime, failed to pay for all hours worked, and did not maintain required records for payday information.

In a first-of-its-kind settlement, the employer agreed to pay the worker a total of $71,610.03 in back wages, interest and civil penalties.

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"I would encourage other domestic workers to come forward and not to be afraid if they believe that the contracts and the form of payment are not being fulfilled according to the work that is done,” said the domestic worker, who was not identified. “Firstly, it was my ignorance of the laws and rights that I had, but through friends who supported me to do it, I lost my fear and filed the complaint. It was worth the risk and a favorable result was given. I want to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have participated in the investigation and have made this result possible so that a favorable agreement can be reached.”

After the settlement, the OLS said the employer agreed to implement a policy for PSST, track employee hours worked, maintain payroll records and give notifications with wage payment, employment and PSST information if it employs a Seattle-based domestic worker in the future.

Domestic workers like nannies, house cleaners, gardeners, and cooks became the focus of legislation in Seattle in 2018. The city was the first in the United States to adopt a domestic workers' bill of rights.

In the last seven years, the city of Seattle has settled nearly 1,000 cases where employers agreed to pay wages owed to their workers at a total of more than $24 million.

In June, the OLS announced one-time funding available to organizations in the Seattle area for outreach and helping domestic workers understand their rights. The $250,000 for domestic worker community organizing will be used for up to eight projects. Nonprofit organizations and grassroots groups that have fiscal sponsorship with a nonprofit organization can apply for funding.

The ordinance applies to people working in private homes. These workers have the right to Seattle’s minimum wage, uninterrupted meal and rest breaks and protections against sexual harassment and discrimination, according to the ordinance.

Workers who live or sleep where they are employed are entitled to one day off after working six consecutive days.

The Domestic Workers Standards Board, created in 2019 after the ordinance was passed, said domestic work is done primarily by women and people of color. There were about 33,000 nannies, house cleaners and other domestic workers in Seattle as of 2019.

The board said domestic workers' "labor is the invisible engine that drives our society."

"We are proud of the courage of this domestic worker," the Domestic Workers Standards Board said after the settlement. "She is an example for the thousands of workers who are being abused, raise your voice to be heard and ensure that the laws are complied with."

The OLS said domestic workers can ask a question or file a complaint by calling 206-256-5297, emailing workers.laborstandards@seattle.gov or filling out this online form.

Employers looking to hire domestic workers can call 206-256-5297 or email business.laborstandards@seattle.gov for free compliance assistance and training.

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