As a Live-In Caregiver, you live in the same house where you work. You might be a foreign worker with a temporary work visa. You might be a citizen or permanent resident unsure about whether you have to be on duty 24 hours a day. No matter what your situation might be, always remember: AS LONG AS YOU ARE WORKING LEGALLY, YOU HAVE THE SAME RIGHTS AND PROTECTIONS AS ANYONE ELSE.
Understandably, if you are living in the home of your employer, you might encounter problems that people who work in an office don’t usually encounter. So what can you do if your employer treats you unfairly, or accuses you of something you didn’t do?
- Work hours
Keep a log of hours you work and tasks you perform and ask your employer to sign it at the end of every day. This way your employer won’t be able to say later that you didn’t do your job, or that you worked fewer hours and should be paid less. You can use this simple template to start your log:
Date Description of each task you performed(make sure you describe each task separately) Time you started the task Time you finished the tasks such as you raised toilet seat or cleaned their clothes etc. Remember: even though you live in your employer’s home, your employer cannot make you work longer than the hours determined by your state or province to be full time. If he or she asks you to work longer hours, he or she is required by law to pay you overtime, which in most states and provinces has to be at least 1.5 times your regular hourly salary.
If you find money, jewelry, or important documents while you are cleaning or doing other work, ALWAYS TELL YOUR EMPLOYER RIGHT AWAY. Often, caregivers feel shy or scared and pretend they didn’t see the valuables. This is a very bad idea. You can’t know for sure your employer hasn’t left the item there just to test you. What’s worse, if the item later turns up missing, your employer will be free to blame you, or even accuse you of stealing.
So whenever you find anything valuable in a place where it shouldn’t be, you should:
- Put the item in a safe place
- Tell your employer as soon as you see him or her that you found it, and where you put it
If you do this consistently, your employer will have proof of your honesty, and if he or she loses something later he or she won’t be quick to blame you.
If your employer gives you a present, give him or her a thank-you note as soon as you can. Make sure you use the word “present” or “gift,” and also say what that gift was. For example, if your employer gives you a blue shirt, you can write, “Thank you for your wonderful presentation. The shirt is beautiful. Blue is my favorite color!” Make a copy of the note and keep it in a safe place.
- Your living quarters
Even though you are living in your employer’s home, you have the right to privacy. Your employer must give you your own room and cannot charge you higher rent than the maximum allowed by your state or province. He or she also cannot come into your room without knocking or without at least a 24-hour notice. If your room is furnished, you have the right to move the furnishings around; if the room is not furnished, you have the right to bring furnishings inside. You can even repaint the walls in your favorite colors – however, your employer has the right to ask you to paint them back to original colors when you leave your job.
Basically, you are in the same situation as a person who rents an apartment in the building – and you have the same rights as those people. As long as you do not alter the room in any significant and irreversible way, you can do whatever you want within it.
Often, employers tell their Live-In Caregivers that they cannot bring friends to their apartment and are not allowed to have anyone spend the night. This request has no legal basis, and you are under no obligation to comply. As long as you are reasonably quiet, do not disturb your employer, and do not allow your friends to become a nuisance, your employer has no right to stop you.
- Your work visa
People who have temporary work visas are especially vulnerable to abuse by their employers. If you are a temporary worker, your visa is conditional: you can only work for the employer who is named in your documents and approved by the immigration authorities. However, your employer cannot threaten that he or she will force you to leave the country. In order for your visa to lapse, your employer has to fire you – but he or she can only fire you for valid reasons. If you follow the above steps correctly, your employer will not be able to accuse you of theft or not performing your duties. Therefore, he or she will not have a legal right to fire you.
Often, however, instead of firing the employee outright, the employer will act so badly as to make the Live-In Caregiver’s life very difficult, in hopes that the Live-In Caregiver will simply quit. Remember: if you feel that you have to quit your job with your present employer, the immigration authorities always give you time to find another employer, during which you can remain in the country legally. Check with the US or Canadian immigration authorities to find out how much time you have to find another employer.
If your employment ended for reasons other than being fired or quitting (for example, if the elderly person you were looking after has passed away, and your services are no longer required), you might be eligible for unemployment insurance (employment insurance in Canada). You are only eligible for this insurance if your employer has withheld a small part of your salary towards this insurance – however, in many places he or she has to do this by law. Check with your employer whether you are eligible for this insurance. Usually, you have to apply for it with the state or provincial government.
Whatever you do, remember that you must not let your work permit expire, even for one day. And whenever you have questions about your status, call the immigration authorities!