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The Cost of a Night on The Town is About to Increase

September 6, 2011

[UPDATE: Since this article was posted, the Senate Appropriations Committee suspended AB 889. We will continue to monitor the progress of this bill.]

For many couples in California, a night on the town is a welcomed break from parenting responsibilities, and an opportunity to become reacquainted with one another. The routine of preparing for a night on the town generally involves making dinner reservations, purchasing movie tickets, and arranging for a babysitter to come to the family home for the evening. As a result of a bill currently before the California legislature, however, this simple routine may become far more complicated, and fraught with danger.

Assembly Bill 889 recently cleared the state assembly, and is expected to pass with the overwhelming support of the legislature. Under AB 889, by hiring a babysitter for your night on the town you may be considered an “employer,” and thereby obligated to pay the babysitter at least minimum wage and provide workers’ compensation benefits. As an employer, you also would be required to provide meal and rest breaks, so you may need to hire a second babysitter to watch the kids while the first sitter is on a mandatory thirty- minute meal break. Should your night on the town run long, you may even be liable to the babysitter for overtime compensation. Apparently, your night on the town is about to become a lot more complicated and expensive.

Although much of the discussion surrounding AB 889 relates to its impact on the ability to hire a babysitter, the effect of this legislation is potentially more broad. If passed, the legislation would apply to all domestic work employees, and cover “people performing services related to the care of persons in private households or maintenance of private households or their premises.” Accordingly, the reach of this legislation may go far beyond personal caregivers such as babysitters, and likely also will apply to individuals such as your gardener, handyman, or that friend who stays at your house and feeds your cat while you are on vacation.

Failure to comply with AB 889’s requirements may result in civil liability as the legislation gives rise to a private cause of action by any domestic work employee who believes he or she has not been afforded the rights granted to him or her under this legislation. Further, because the failure to secure workers’ compensation insurance is a misdemeanor, violation of AB 889 could result in criminal prosecution. Graciously, AB 889 does not apply to domestic work employees under the age of 18, so hiring the neighborhood kids to mow your lawn appears to remain a viable option, and thus far, has not been deemed exploitative child labor.

We will continue to monitor the progress of this legislation, and post additional updates and analysis as it makes its way through the state legislature.