Employment Law Journal

Hawaii Legislature Grants Employment Protection to Domestic Workers

By Bruce Voss

Hawaii’s Legislature has passed a “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights,” granting most domestic workers protection under Hawaii’s anti-discrimination laws.

Under the new law, it is unlawful “for any employer to discriminate against any individual employed as a domestic, in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of the individual’s race, sex including gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, religion, color, ancestry, disbility, or marital status.”

The new law protects individuals who perform just about any type of service of a “household nature” in or around a private home in Hawaii.  Categories of workers expressly covered include cooks, waiters, butlers, valets, maids, housekeepers, governesses, janitors, laundresses, caretakers, handyman, gardeners, and chauffeurs.

The Legislature did attempt to narrow the scope of the new law somewhat.  Under a related statute, the term “employee” was defined to exclude employees “in domestic service on a casual basis” or those who “provide companionship services for the aged or infirm.”  The term “casual basis” means employment that is “irregular or intermittent.”  However, regardless of how the work is characterized, a domestic worker is still protected by the law if his or her “employment for all employers exceeds 20 hours per week in the aggregate.”

The legislation was broadly supported by State and civil rights agencies, even though there was a little or no evidence of actionable discrimination currently ongoing against domestic workers in Hawaii.  Employers will be watching closely to see if the new law triggers any class action lawsuits, and how liability and damages are argued in any new lawsuits.

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