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Latest California Insanity: Regulating Babysitters

Adam Summers
September 3, 2011, 3:35pm

In case you needed further evidence for why California is a backward state with chronic multi-billion-dollar budget deficits, the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation, the worst business climate in the nation, and enormous unfunded pension liabilities that will burden generations to come—or in case you are a California resident and are simply a glutton for punishment—consider one of the latest offerings from our esteemed elected officials in Sacramento.

Assembly Bill 889 would require workers' compensation benefits, rest and meal breaks, and vacation time for all "domestic employees," including housekeepers, nannies, caregivers, and, yes, even babysitters.

As state Senator Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) explains in a column for The Union (Western Nevada County, CA),

Under AB 889, household “employers” (aka “parents”) who hire a babysitter on a Friday night will be legally obligated to pay at least minimum wage to any sitter over the age of 18 (unless it is a family member), provide a substitute caregiver every two hours to cover rest and meal breaks, in addition to workers' compensation coverage, overtime pay, and a meticulously calculated timecard/paycheck.

Failure to abide by any of these provisions may result in a legal cause of action against the employer including cumulative penalties, attorneys' fees, legal costs and expenses associated with hiring expert witnesses, an unprecedented measure of legal recourse provided no other class of workers – from agricultural laborers to garment manufacturers. (On the bright side, language requiring an hour of paid vacation time for every 30 hours worked was amended out of the bill in the Senate.)

As Sen. LaMalfa notes, these additional and unnecessary regulations will only further burden taxpayers and cause people to forego such services altogether or force children and the elderly to be cared for in institutionalized care facilities instead of their own homes.

If wages, benefits, or working conditions are so unacceptable to nannies, housekeepers, or anyone else, they are free to seek other employers or other occupations. Liberals can scream, "Exploitation!" or "Living wages!" all they want, but the fact that people agree to take such positions with such employment terms indicates that they feel those jobs and those terms are better than any other alternatives. By mutually agreeing upon such a contract, the employee is better off because the terms are presumably better than other opportunities, and the employer is better off because the price and terms he or she has agreed to are presumably better than those that could be reached with another potential employee. The wages received are worth more to the employee than the other things he or she could be doing with his or her time, and the service performed is worth more to the employer than the money he or she has to give up to receive it.  It is a value-for-value exchange and both parties are made better off than they were previously. This is how trade works in a free society.

What next, will we have to offer workers' compensation to have a guy down the street do a couple odd jobs around the house or the yard? Mandatory breaks and vacation time for the neighborhood kid to mow your lawn? (Local governments across the nation are already cracking down on the scourge of kids' lemonade stands.) Then again, knowing California politicians, I shouldn't give them any ideas.


Adam Summers is Senior Policy Analyst


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