Philadelphia Expands Employment Protections for Domestic Workers

Effective May 1, 2020, Philadelphia became the tenth jurisdiction to enact employment legislation to protect domestic workers.1 The Philadelphia Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (DWBR) requires companies and individuals who employ domestic workers to provide them with written employment contracts, meal and rest breaks, and paid and unpaid leave. It is estimated that this new law will cover 16,000 domestic workers employed by companies and individuals in Philadelphia.

The DWBR is considered by advocates to be one of the strongest employment laws protecting domestic workers in the nation. Notably, the DWBR creates the country’s first portable paid leave system, granting domestic workers the ability to accrue and use paid time off across multiple employers. Philadelphia’s adoption of the DWBR also mirrors efforts on a national level to enact similar legislation. In July 2019, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Pramila Jayapal introduced the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act, which would amend federal labor laws to include domestic workers and add new protections such as a guaranteed minimum wage, overtime pay, and paid leave.

Covered Employers

The DWBR applies to “hiring entities,” meaning any employer as defined by the Pennsylvania Wage Payment Collection Law (WPCL)2 and the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (PMWA)3 that employs a domestic worker, and any individual, partnership, association, or corporation that pays the wages of a domestic worker.

“Employer” is defined under the WPCL as “every person, firm, partnership, association, corporation, receiver or other officer of a court of this Commonwealth and any agent or office of any of the above-mentioned classes employing any person in this Commonwealth.”4 “Employer” is defined more broadly under the PMWA as “any individual, partnership, association, corporation, business trust, or any person or group of persons acting, directly or indirectly, in the interest of any employer in relation to any employe[e].”5

Covered Domestic Workers

The DWBR defines “domestic worker” as any individual who works in a residence for the following purposes:

  • Caring for a child;
  • Serving as a companion or caretaker for the sick, the elderly, or a person with a disability;
  • Housekeeping or house cleaning;
  • Cooking;
  • Providing food or butler service;
  • Parking cars;
  • Cleaning laundry;
  • Gardening;
  • Personal organizing; or
  • Any other domestic service purpose.

The DWBR specifically excludes:

  • Family members;
  • House sitters, pet sitters, and dog walkers;
  • Individuals who work at a business primarily operated out of their residence, such as a home day care;
  • Household repair or maintenance persons, such as roofers, plumbers, and painters;
  • Home healthcare workers paid through public funds; and
  • Anyone under the age of 18.

New Obligations Imposed on Employers of Domestic Workers

Written Contracts

The DWBR requires hiring entities to provide domestic workers with a written contract setting forth:

  • Job duties;
  • Scheduled hours per week;
  • Hourly wages and the manner and frequency of payment;
  • Breaks for rest and meals;
  • Paid or unpaid leave;
  • Paid holidays;
  • Any other benefit provided;
  • Modes of transportation required and whether provided;
  • Value of housing, if provided;
  • Sleeping period and personal time for live-in workers;
  • The term of the contract; and
  • Any other terms and conditions agreed to by the parties.

A written contract is not required if the domestic worker performs less than five hours of work per month or only works “on a casual basis.” A template contract is available on the DWBR’s resources website.

Rest Breaks

The DWBR requires hiring entities to “allow the domestic worker an uninterrupted paid rest period of not less than ten (10) minutes for each four (4) consecutive hours worked,” unless breaks are not feasible because of the work performed (e.g., caring for children or a sick, elderly, or disabled person).

Meal Breaks

After more than five consecutive working hours, “the hiring entity shall allow an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break[,]” which must be paid unless the domestic worker is relieved of all work duties. Each time a domestic worker does not receive a mandatory meal or rest break, they are entitled to one additional hour of pay.

Paid Leave

Additionally, the DWBR imposes an obligation to provide paid leave to domestic workers, which accrues at one hour per 40 hours of work and is capped at 40 hours per year. Paid leave may be used: (1) when a domestic worker’s scheduled work time is cancelled or changed, (2) for any of the reasons under Philadelphia’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance,6 and (3) “for significant and unexpected personal matters.” Covered employers will pay the paid leave to domestic workers through a collective fund administered by the Mayor’s Office of Labor. Paid leave is portable and will be tracked through a centralized reporting system, meaning domestic workers can accrue and use paid leave with multiple employers. The details of the paid leave compensation system will be developed in future regulations, and the paid leave provisions are not effective until those regulations are adopted.

Unpaid Leave

Domestic workers also accrue unpaid leave, which accrues at the same rate as paid leave and can be used for any of the reasons under Philadelphia’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance. The law further provides that “live-in” domestic workers may not work more than six consecutive days without a 24-hour period of rest, which may be unpaid.

Termination of Employment

The DWBR requires that hiring entities provide at least two weeks’ notice (and four weeks for live-in workers) to terminate the employment relationship, unless the hiring entity has a good-faith belief that the domestic worker engaged in significant misconduct. The domestic worker is entitled to severance pay if the hiring entity does not provide the required notification. Such severance pay is computed as the worker’s regular hourly rate multiplied by the regularly scheduled number of hours over the period of time the required notification was not provided.  

Prohibited Conduct

The DWBR prohibits hiring entities from:

  • Keeping the originals of the domestic worker’s personal documents;
  • Monitoring or recording the domestic worker while using bathroom facilities, in their private living quarters, or while changing clothes; and
  • Monitoring or interfering with their private communications.

Required Notice of Rights and Recordkeeping Requirements

Hiring entities must provide domestic workers with a notice outlining their rights under the DWBR, along with information on how to file a complaint when they believe their rights have been violated. A model notice is likely to be posted on the city’s compliance resources page. Hiring entities also must maintain records documenting hours worked, pay rate, leave time earned and used, and the existence of a written contract.


The DWBR protects domestic workers from retaliation for exercising or attempting to exercise their rights under the law, including filing a complaint or informing any person about a hiring entity’s alleged violations. Retaliation includes threatening to report a domestic worker’s or family member’s suspected citizenship or immigration status, or otherwise interfering with, restraining, or denying the exercise of a domestic worker’s rights under the law.

Enforcement and Penalties

Domestic workers may report suspected violations of the DWBR to the Mayor’s Office of Labor, which is currently responsible for enforcing and implementing the DWBR.7 Complaints must be reported within two years of the date the alleged violation. Possible remedies include penalties and fines, reinstatement, restitution for lost wages and benefits, or an amount of presumed damages to be set by regulation.

The DWBR also allows domestic workers to bring a lawsuit in court against a hiring entity for violations of the DWBR, and domestic workers do not have to file a complaint with the Mayor’s Office of Labor before bringing a lawsuit. If the domestic worker prevails, a court can award relief including reinstatement of employment, back pay, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees and costs.

Considerations for Employers of Domestic Workers

The DWBR places significant new responsibilities on individuals, families, companies, and agencies that employ domestic workers. Employers should ensure that they have written employment contracts with domestic workers that include all of the law’s required provisions and create systems to track and document hours worked and the use and accrual of leave time, while we await more detail in forthcoming regulations regarding Philadelphia’s portable paid leave system.

See Footnotes

1 For articles summarizing the laws protecting domestic workers in other states and cities, please see: Jeremy Wood and Breanne Martell, Seattle Passes Ordinance to Expand Employment Rights to Domestic Workers, Littler ASAP (Aug. 27, 2018); Melissa McDonagh and Angelo Spinola, Illinois Becomes Seventh State to Expand Employment Rights to Domestic Workers, Littler Insight (Sept. 23, 2016); Christopher Kaczmarek, Jennifer Duke and Stephen Melnick, Massachusetts Extends Labor and Employment Protections to Domestic Workers, Littler Insight (Dec. 30, 2014); Eugene Ryu and Yves Nguyen, Nannies Join Employees Required to Receive Overtime Under California’s Domestic Worker Bill Of Rights, Littler Insight (Oct. 24, 2013).

2 43 P.S. § 260.1 et seq.

3 43 P.S. § 333.102 et seq.

4 43 P.S. § 260.2a.

5 43 P.S. § 333.103.

6 See Ben Huggett and Barbara Rittinger Rigo, Philadelphia Enacts Paid Sick Leave Ordinance for Virtually All Employers, Littler Insight (Feb. 14, 2015).

7 This may change depending on the outcome of Pennsylvania’s primary election, which was held on June 2, 2020 and included a ballot measure to create a Department of Labor for Philadelphia and Board of Labor Standards to administer and enforce citywide labor laws, including the DWBR. The results of the ballot measure are not yet available due to Governor Wolf’s June 1, 2020 Executive Order extending the deadline to return absentee or mail-in ballots in six Pennsylvania counties, including Philadelphia county, to June 9, 2020.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.