United States: "Takin' Care Of Business" At Home: Hiring California Household Help

Last Updated: September 9 2016
Article by Coby M. Turner

Seyfarth Synopsis: Have you pondered the implications of hiring help around the house? Here are some legal requirements regarding employment of domestic helpers.

Household workers or "domestic helpers" are people who work within a private household or on their employer's premises. They include cleaners, maids, groundskeepers, dog walkers, cooks, nurses, home masseuses, personal trainers, and nannies, and those holding more unusual jobs like bodyguards, butlers, valets, furnace workers, and crews of private yachts. Their wages and working conditions are subject to the provisions of Wage Order 15 for Household Occupations.

  • Note some exceptions: Carpenters, electricians, librarians, musicians, nurses leased from a nursing registry, painters, plumbers, private secretaries, and workers provided by independent businesses (such as janitorial services and pool maintenance services) generally do not count as household employees.
  • Also, home-based "personal attendants" (people who supervise, feed, or dress children, the elderly, or the disabled), and baby sitters under the age of 18 are generally excluded from most of Wage Order 15's requirements.

While few of us enjoy private yachts, many of us do employ household workers. Household employment triggers certain special requirements:

  • "Dolla Dolla Bill Y'all"—At what point do I become an "employer"? According to Section 684 of the California Unemployment Insurance Code (CUIC), a "household employer" is someone who has paid $750 or more in cash or wages to one or more household workers in a calendar quarter. Generally, you must register with the Employment Development Department (EDD) within 15 days after you have paid $750 in cash or checks.
  • "Working 9 to 5"—What are the rules for hours of work and payment for household employees?   Generally household workers are subject to the same minimum wage and overtime requirements as any other job. That means, they are entitled to the prevalent state (or local, depending on your local law) minimum wage, overtime pay at 1.5 times the wage rate for any work over eight hours in a day, over forty hours in a week, and for the first eight hours worked on the seventh consecutive day in a work week, and double-time for any work over twelve hours in a day and anything over eight on the seventh consecutive workday. Employers also must pay a split-shift premium of one hour's pay at minimum wage, and reporting time pay, if applicable.
    • There are a number of specific exceptions and requirements for live-in household workers, and for individuals who work every day but not more than thirty total hours per week, detailed in Wage Order 15.
    • And, keep in mind, that much like a corporate employer, household employers have the same obligations to provide meal and rest periods, keep records of hours worked, provide required uniforms and equipment, and provide suitable seating, among other things.
  • "Taxman" – Tax Implications? If a "household employer" pays cash wages of $750-$999.99, they are responsible for reporting wages for purpose of State Disability Insurance. The SDI taxes are deducted from employees' wages and remitted by the employer to the EDD.

If a "household employer" pays cash wages of more than $1,000, they are responsible for not only SDI taxes, but also Unemployment Insurance and Employment Training Taxes pursuant to Section 682 of the CUIC. For more detailed guidance please visit the EDD's website.

Note: these numbers are subject to changes annually and do not include Social Security taxes the employer pays for the employee.

  • "Work, Work, Work, Work, Work, Work"ers Compensation Insurance. In every work situation in California, workers' compensation insurance is required for any domestic worker employed 52 or more hours, or who earned $100 or more, during 90 calendar days immediately preceding the date of an injury or last exposure to the hazard of an occupational disease. The provision does exclude workers employed by a parent, spouse, or child.
  • "I Left My Heart in San Francisco"—What about City Ordinances? In addition to State rules, numerous cities have added additional special protections for household employees. For example, San Francisco explicitly included household employees who perform work in San Francisco in their "Paid Sick Leave Ordinance," which means that household workers in San Francisco are entitled to (and employers must track and pay for) accrued paid sick time.

"With A Little Help From My Friends." These are just a few of the potential legal implications to hiring help in the home in the State of California. To be on the safe side, always check local regulations and city ordinances to make sure you are complying with the law. Friendly Seyfarth Shaw attorneys are also always available to advise on practical solutions.

Edited by Colleen Regan and David Kadue.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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