As someone who has hired an employee to work in your home, you’re considered an employer and your home is a workplace. That means you are subject to applicable labor laws. Some of these regulations are designed to prevent discrimination in the workplace. While federal laws require at least five, 15, or even 20 employees to take effect, it’s a best practice to set fair hiring and employment procedures as they are applied to any workplace. You’ll create a professional hiring attitude, an unbiased work environment, and a stronger relationship with your employee.
Laws to Prevent Discrimination
Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of:
- race, color, religion, sex, and national origin (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act)
- age (Age Discrimination in Employment Act)
- pregnancy (Pregnancy Discrimination Act)
- citizenship (Immigration Reform and Control Act)
- gender (Equal Pay Act)
- disability (Americans with Disabilities Act)
- bankruptcy (Bankruptcy Code)
- genetic information (Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act)
Even if you are not subject to anti-discrimination laws, you should use them as guidelines to prevent discrimination and ensure equal opportunity employment, including hiring, firing, compensation, promotion, recruitment, testing, job advertisements, benefits, retirement plans, disability leaves, and other terms and conditions of employment.
Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights
A number of states have passed a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights in an effort to help prevent discrimination in domestic employment. Household employees are often excluded from basic state and federal labor rights. They may be vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment and are isolated from the traditional workforce. Lacking typical workforce protections against unsafe conditions, domestic workers are open to discrimination and harassment and susceptible to exploitation by their employers.
In New York, the first state to pass a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, household employees can file a complaint against their employer if they are harassed due to gender, race, sex, religion or national origin. Employers are not allowed to retaliate if their employee files a complaint.
In addition to federal and state laws, household employers must also comply with local laws, which often supersede federal and state laws. For example, in Washington, D.C., the DC Human Rights Act applies to all employers, even those with just one employee. It prohibits discrimination based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibilities, genetic information, disability, matriculation, or political affiliation.
No employee should be subject to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct that is sexual in nature or that shows hostility to the employee because of their gender. Sexual harassment can have devastating effects on the workplace. Household employers should take every step necessary to prohibit sexual harassment from occurring.
A best practice is to include anti-harassment and/or anti-discrimination policy in your employee handbook, which specifically addresses sexual harassment. The policy should clearly state that:
- all employees and employers within the household are expected to treat one another with respect to maintain a positive work environment
- the employer will act immediately upon learning of a sexual harassment complaint
- an employee should promptly file a formal complaint if the employee experiences behavior that is unwelcome, offensive, or inappropriate
- employers need to assure employees that all complaints of sexual harassment will be handled in confidence
- the employer mandates a workplace free from all forms of discrimination, as per the law
The Society for Human Resource Management provides a sample anti-harassment policy document.
You should be prepared to respond to sexual harassment in the workplace. Your employee handbook should cover what actions will be taken when a sexual harassment complaint is filed. The policy must also state that no employee will experience retaliation for submitting a sexual harassment complaint.
Common Sense Practices to Prevent Discrimination
These practices can help you prevent discrimination in the workplace:
- treat all employees equally
- hire, promote, and fire without bias
- review employment policies for unfair and negative impact on a protected class (e.g., race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, or pregnancy)
- eliminate any unfair or negative policies or practices
- take immediate action to eliminate discriminatory conduct including inappropriate comments or behavior
- encourage diversity
- never retaliate against an employee for filing a discrimination complaint
Household employers can struggle with their home being a personal residence, and at the same time, a workplace for others. Be aware of any discrimination laws in your state and city and how they may apply to you. Then implement employment practices to prevent discrimination and possible arguments or lawsuits.