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D.C. Domestic Workers Deserve Protections

We invite them into our homes and trust our children with them. And yet, we as a nation still don’t offer domestic workers the respect, the protection, the basic civil and labor rights afforded to virtually all other workforces. This lack of basic legal protections make it far easier for domestic workers to be exploited and trafficked. Indeed, domestic work routinely appears as the second most common type of labor trafficking situation we learn about on the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Now, D.C. wants to change that and it’s about time.

On June 16, the D.C. Council will hear testimony from Polaris and others in support of B24-712, the Domestic Worker Employment Rights Amendment Act of 2022. This bill, introduced by At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, is an important step toward giving workers the tools they need to protect themselves and making it more difficult to traffick and exploit the very workers who make it possible for the rest of the economy to function.

While trafficking and exploitation are, of course, illegal already, the fact that domestic workers have few enumerated rights under law, are left out of most labor protections federally, and tend to work in more informal types of arrangements, makes them particularly vulnerable. Additionally, domestic workers tend to belong to communities that are vulnerable to trafficking for other reasons. Immigrants who are not documented are vulnerable to trafficking because traffickers can threaten to have them deported. Poverty is a key vulnerability to trafficking.

Of the 47,319 domestic workers living in the DMV metro area:

  • 93% are women
  • 78% are people of color
  • 65% are immigrants
  • $21,573 is the median annual earnings

The volume of labor trafficking of domestic workers in the District of Columbia largely mirrors what happens at the national level. The Trafficking Hotline from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2020 found that 31 percent of the labor trafficking, sex and labor trafficking, and labor exploitation situations in D.C. reported to the Hotline involved domestic workers.1

The legislation before the council would

  • Include domestic workers in D.C.’s Human Rights Act, to provide protection against sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and other protected classes
  • End the exclusion of domestic workers from D.C.’s occupational health and safety law
  • Require written agreements between domestic workers and their employers to ensure workers know their rights and employers are aware of their responsibilities
  • Provide supports and services to ensure workers know their rights and employers know their responsibilities.

Similar legislation pending before Congress would offer these kinds of needed protections for all domestic workers in the United States. In the meantime, 19 states and two major municipalities have passed their own versions of a domestic workers’ bill of rights to ensure this vital workforce is protected and treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. D.C. can and should be next.

1 The data being reported here was generated based on information communicated to the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline via phone, email, online tip report, SMS, or Webchat. The Trafficking Hotline cannot verify the accuracy of the information reported. This is not a comprehensive report on the scale or scope of human trafficking within the United States. These statistics are accurate as of May 19, 2022 but are subject to change as new information emerges or as data cleanup occurs. Since awareness of both human trafficking and the existence of a national victim service hotline is still limited, this data set should be interpreted as a limited sample of actual victim or trafficking incident data, rather than a representation of all existent victims or incidents of human trafficking. The information reported by the Trafficking Hotline is only able to represent who has access to and knowledge of the Trafficking Hotline, who has the means to reach out, and who is more likely to self-identify as a likely victim or someone in need of assistance. The data reported by Polaris should not be compared to the findings of more rigorous academic studies or prevalence estimates.

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Need help? Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.