Your nanny, a young immigrant, is crying. She assures you she’s all right, and since her English is not good anyway, you decide not to pry. Later, your gardener tells you with a wink that she’s having “man trouble.” You shake your head and smile, never suspecting that he’s the troublesome man in question, or that your failure to pry may have been the biggest financial mistake of your life.
“If one employee on a job site has another coming on to them,” says household and property management consultant Teresa Leigh, “under federal law, the employer is required to investigate and document the claim.” By dismissing the maid’s anguish as a rocky romance, you are exposing yourself and your bank account to a lawsuit and a significant judgment.
Since the mid-1990s, the number of domestic workers in the United States has doubled, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which estimated in 2008 that 1.5 million people fell into the job category census takers used to call “private household service.”
Awareness, as in any demographic explosion, is lagging behind the trend. A study released in March by Ace Private Risk Services showed that of their survey group of Americans with $5 million in investible funds, half employed household help. Yet less than one-third carry insurance to protect against sexual harassment, wrongful termination or workplace injury. “They think, ‘It’s not going to happen to me’,” says Leigh.