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Jun. 3 2010 - 3:11 pm | 516 views | 0 recommendations | 9 comments

The Catch 22 of New York’s nanny law

The Nanny

Image by *clairity* via Flickr

On the surface, the proposal sounds oh-so-logical, not to mention just and fair: Give domestic workers, be they nannies or housekeepers or once-a-week maids, the same protections and perks that conventional employees get. Give them paid sick leave, vacations, severance pay, and at least two-week’s notice if you are going to let them go. And do it if they are citizens, legal immigrants, even illegals. Who can argue against that?

In principal, nobody (well, okay, the illegal immigrant part is going to raise its share of ire, but hold your fire for a moment). And Albany seems to have signed on: The Assembly passed a bill last year, the State Senate passed one this week, and most Albany-watchers expect Gov. Patterson will soon sign a reconciled version into law.

If he does, it will easily make it onto any 10 Least Enforceable Laws list. And an unenforceable law is much worse than no law at all. It raises false hopes among domestic workers. It gets their advocates to congratulate themselves on a victory and turn to other causes. And it emboldens exploiters to continue business as usual, confident that the government has taken its best shot and will also move on.

The problem, of course, is that all too often, domestic workers and employers are on the same side. Many employers don’t want to pay social security or payroll taxes or other fees for their nannies and maids; many nannies and maids don’t want to declare their incomes. I have known three who wouldn’t accept checks as payment — one didn’t have a checking account, but two just didn’t want a paper trail of any kind regarding their income.

And that, of course, brings us to the illegal immigrant issue. Sure, it sounds compassionate and embracing to say that anyone, legal or not, should have a right to recourse if they are being exploited. But how exactly does an illegal immigrant sue an employer without outing himself/herself? I can see a worst-case scenario if this passes, whereby people who currently employ citizens and legals might actively seek illegals, just to avoid the cost and paperwork.

I am sounding like the worst sort of Tea Partyer here. I’m not, truly. It has always horrified me that as a society we consistently underpay and undervalue the people who take care of our most precious resource, our children. And I wish there were a workable way to bring their benefits and salaries up to par. I just don’t think this kind of legislation is that way.


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    What better way to get nannygate under the table nannies to pay millions in taxes then ensuring they are given labor rights. If you were the one sleeping in the basement of someone else’s house next to a boiler while working 60 to 70 hours per week to get a small stipend would you still think labor laws don’t need to be enforced for domestic workers? Most young nannies haven’t a clue how to negotiated fair contracts and lawyers, doctors, CEOs of this country willingly take advantage of their domestic employees treated them more like slavery than employees. Sad we must create laws to protect people but if parents and the wealthy were treating their domestic employees fairly such laws wouldn’t be necessary. Time for similar legislation nationwide.

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    The situation with many domestic workers is unfortunate. It is difficult to determine what the solution is, though I think this legislation is an attempt to protect the rights of the workers. It is extremely important for nannies and their employers to create employment contracts. While this can be difficult and confusing for some, agencies such as The Nanny Authority can help negotiate contracts so that the needs and expectations of all involved parties are met and upheld.

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      again, we agree. This legislation is certainly an attempt to protect rights — I just worry that it is unenforceable, and that is worse than doing nothing at all because it lulls people into complacency

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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        It seems that those who would be lulled into complacency regarding these issues are already there. The legislation might make things “worse” for those who lose their jobs because their employers don’t want to comply, but for those who are dodging the system, it seems that nothing would change.
        This isn’t to say that dodging the system and refusing to act is at all acceptable, just that it happens.
        You make a valid point. This legislation is not a complete fix. However, it is important to start somewhere…this may just be a stepping stone. Hopefully the advocates for domestic workers do NOT become complacent, accepting this bill as “the solution”. Hopefully it will just inspire them to continue fighting for other necessary changes.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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    Candi Wingate, founder and President of Nannies4Hire, is an expert in the nanny industry. She can weigh in on what parents are doing across the country, benefits parents should consider when hiring a nanny, and individual factors that might determine benefits.

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    About Me

    I graduated from Cornell with a degree in child psychology, enough years ago so that all you needed to break into journalism was willingness to starve. I went into business journalism because, in the 60s, the business press was the crusading press, the ones that wrote about environment, race relations, etc. Since then I have worked for Business Week, Chemical Week and, from 1984 through May 2008, BizDay at the New York Times. I remain bored by and ignorant of esoteric financial instruments; I remain fascinated and pretty knowledgeable about management, marketing, environment, all the non-financial aspects of business. But my true passions? Tennis, both playing and watching, and food, both cooking and eating.

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