A member of the band Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh, was recently sued, along with his wife Anita, by the couple’s nanny. The nanny claimed his wife was verbally abusive and fired her because of her age, which is illegal. Under state and federal law, a person cannot be discriminated against or harassed in the workplace because of his or her age.

The nanny claims that she was a nanny for the couple’s two adopted daughters for nine years before being fired earlier this year. Allegedly, Anita Mothersbaugh screamed and cursed at the nanny throughout the employment in front of friends, family members, construction workers and others at the home. The defendant also allegedly repeatedly accused her of stealing. She claims she was never paid overtime wages despite working 13 hours each day for years.

The plaintiff took two weeks off work earlier this year after injuring her spine. When she came back, she discovered that a younger employee had taken her place. The defendants’ daughter told the nanny that her mom said the nanny was too old to work for them anymore. Repeatedly over the course of the employment, Anita Mothersbaugh told the nanny that she was “old” or referred to her as “having Alzheimer’s”. The nanny is suing for lost earnings, unpaid wages, damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, wrongful termination, and more.

Unfortunately, many people who hire helpers for their home, such as nannies, housekeepers, or lawn care workers, believe that they do not have to follow employment laws. They may believe that since the person is just helping out at home rather than working in an official business, that they are somehow exempt from federal and state employment laws.

In some cases, they may be right. If a person is hired to work on the lawn a couple of hours a week, sets his or her own schedule and provides the tools to do the work, the person is probably considered an independent contractor and may be exempt from many federal and state employment laws. However, if the individual has a set schedule and receives a steady paycheck, the person is an employee and employment laws must be followed by the employer, even if the work is done inside a private home.

Some of the laws that often are not followed by employers of household help include immigrations laws, laws concerning discrimination and harassment, and overtime laws. The U.S. Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 requires employers to ensure that employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S.; however, some households are exempt from this requirement.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as other federal laws, and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, prohibit discrimination or harassment in the workplace on the basis of certain characteristics, including age, sex, pregnancy, disability, ethnicity, religion, race, national origin, and more. If an employee, including a household employee, is discriminated or harassed in the workplace, the employer can be sued for violating the law.

Household employees are also entitled to overtime pay under federal and state law, although there are some exceptions. Under federal law, overtime pay must be paid at 1.5 times the hourly rate for all hours worked over 40 in a 7 day work week. California requires time and a half pay for all hours worked over eight in a day, and double pay for all hours worked over 12 in a day.

As you can see, employment laws can be complex. At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that household staff should be subjected to the same laws that other employees are. If you are a household employee and you believe that you have had your legal rights violated, or if you are an individual looking to hire an employee for your household and you have questions, call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland employment attorney, at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She will be happy to provide you with a free consultation on your issue.

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