A live-in Filipina domestic worker has won a wage claim of $827,506 against her former employers, the Asian Journal (AJ) reported.
The US-based Filipino community news site identified the domestic employee as Linda Alzate (not her real name), who had cared for two of her employers' disabled children.
Her lawyers argued that what she was paid amounted to much less than legal minimum wage.
The judgment, announced in February, was also reported by the Manila-based Philippine Daily Inquirer. The backwage compensation was reportedly among the highest verdicts for a domestic worker in the US.
“The court’s judgement is a victory for Ms. Alzate, especially in the face of a vigorous opposition that did not concede any dime of wages that was owed to her,” a press release from the law firm that represented the Filipina nanny stated.
“It was a testament to the courage of this Filipina to have pursued her claims all the way up to trial.”
18 to 24 hours a day
Filipino-American labour lawyer Attorney Joe Sayas represented Alzate, and argued that she should be paid for the entire time she was on-call to care for the disabled children, to which the court agreed.
Sayas has handled cases for employees in similar situations: Alzate was paid a flat monthly rate regardless of how long she was made available to work — which went from 18 to 24 hours per day, the site reported.
Under the US Domestic Workers Bill of Rights the went into effect in 2014, domestic workers with hours similar to Alzate’s, who are caring for children or seniors, are entitled to overtime pay — their regular hourly rate multiplied by one and a half, or “time and a half.”
Family of doctors
Alzate began working in the home of two doctors in Los Angeles' Hancock Park neighbourhood in 2002.
She initially received a flat monthly salary of $1,000 to care for the couple’s three-to-four-month-old child despite being on call for 24 hours, seven days a week.
That amounts to less than approximately $2 an hour.
The minimum legislated wage for live-in domestic workers in California is $10 a hour, according this website.
At 18 months, the child was diagnosed with severe autism, adding to the workload and responsibilities, AJ reported.
In 2005, another child was born, also with autism, yet the couple still failed to give Alzate her due.
In addition to caring for the children, Alzate was made responsible for other tasks including laundry, running errands, house cleaning and cooking for the family.
Alzate’s last salary in 2014 was $3,000 per month, despite a correctly-calculated salary for her 24/7 live-in wage computing upwards of $6,000.
Her claims cover the period worked from April 2011 to April 2014 with a significant part of the wage based on regular hourly rates.
Alzate said her daily schedule would consist of waking up at 6am, at the latest, to prepare food for the family and prepare the kids for school.
The rest of the day, she would spend cleaning the house, running errands and cooking for the whole family.
Evenings consisted of assisting the children’s much-needed therapy sessions, cooking dinner, and preparing the children for sleep during which she would continue to be on-call.
The older child with severe autism often would wake up every two or three hours, said Alzate.
The children’s parents offered no help.
US law defines a night’s rest as a minimum of five hours for employees on duty for 24 hours or more, which Alzate rarely got.
“Live-in employees should still be paid for each and every hour worked,” Sayas told AJ.
“This means that even if the employee is not engaged in productive work, but is required by the employer to stay in the workplace (due perhaps to an all-day or all night 24/7 supervision of an elderly or child they are taking care
of), they should still be paid as the law sees that as work performed.”
Discouraged from taking off days
Alzate was also discouraged from taking days off, according to the report.
She was quoted as saying that she was getting even just one day off required her to get permission three to four months in advance.
In one instance, she did manage to get four days off for her birthday, which falls on Thanksgiving. Alzate said her male employer got angry.
After raising suspicion about her salary, Alzate’s aunt advised her to contact Sayas’ firm to inquire if she was entitled to back wages after noticing her payments and hours were not what they should be.
Sayas said that wage theft and unpaid overtime wages are not unusual — because some employers take advantage of immigrant workers who are often intimidated into working long hours without proper pay.
Some employers are also do not know the laws regarding proper salaries.
“Going through this process is not easy, but if you know that if you have someone behind you, you will go for it,” said Alzate.
Although the court went in favour of Alzate, the couple has decided to file an appeal, which Alzate and Sayas’ firm are ready to fight.
The couple has since reportedly hired three people to take shifts, doing what Alzate did all by herself.
The workers are also reportedly being paid minimum wage, together amounting to what should’ve been paid to Alzate while she was working.
“The trial court’s judgement in favour of our nanny client is based on good facts and good law. Make no mistake about it,” said Sayas. “We will vigorously fight for the worker on appeal.”
Before Alzate’s case, her lawyer recovered $500,000 for two domestic employees and $425,000 for a security guard, according to the site.
What the ILO says
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Federal United States (US) minimum wage system, domestic workers and caregivers are covered under the minimum wage regulations.
In the US, federal minimum wage is around $7.25 per hour since July 2009 (as per the US Department of Labor). However, the California state minimum wage is $10.50 (Dh38.5) per hour.
When there are two minimum wage regulations in force (federal and state) employees are to be considered on the higher of the two.
This would mean that Ms Alzate was eligible to $10.50 per hour along with $15.75 (Dh57) per hour of overtime for every extra hour she worked more than 8 hours a day – which has been established at 1.5 times minimum wage, the usual rate set by the US Department of Labor.