Mar 11

Household Names: Butlers, Maids, and Other Live-In Workers

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California law creates special rules for live-in housekeepers, butlers, and other domestic employees.

California law creates special rules for live-in housekeepers, butlers, and other domestic employees.

Live-in housekeepers on shows like The Brady Bunch and Mr. Belvedere work for free. In real life, California law entitles housekeepers and all other employees who work in household occupations – butlers, chauffeurs, companions, cooks, gardeners, maids, tutors, valets, and other domestic workers – to special rights if they live in their employers’ households.1 Unfortunately, life sometimes imitates art. Some employers seem to think that live-ins are exempt from the minimum wage, overtime pay, and even maximum hours. They’re mistaken. So if you’re a live-in butler, and you suspect your employer is violating your rights, put the candlestick away and read on.

What’s the Minimum Wage for California Live-In Workers?

Cool it, Alice. Your employer can claim a credit for meals and lodging.

Cool it, Alice. Your employer can claim a credit for meals and lodging.

Generally, California law entitles an employee to the minimum wage for all hours she works. Effective January 1, 2016, the statewide minimum wage is $10.00 per hour, though certain cities, including L.A. and Santa Monica, have, or in the near future will have, a higher minimum wage. The right to receive the minimum wage for all hours of work is non-waivable.2 Certain employees, including outside salespersons, white-collar employees, and individuals who are the parent, spouse, or child of the employer, are exempt from the minimum wage. Live-ins aren’t. So if a live-in butler’s life resembles an episode of Who’s the Boss?, he should sue his boss.

That said, an employer doesn’t always have to pay a live-in all of her wages in cash or an instrument negotiable in cash (e.g., a check). Instead, he can credit her meals against the minimum wage – up to $3.26 for breakfast, $4.47 for lunch, and $6.01 for dinner – but only if she voluntarily agrees in writing to allow him to claim such a credit.3 Furthermore, an employer can’t just throw a live-in a couple of slices of baloney or a head of lettuce. Each meal for which an employer seeks a credit must be: (1) an adequate, well-balanced serving of a variety of wholesome, nutritious foods; and (2) consistent with the live-in’s work shift.4 But the Court of Appeal hasn’t addressed any of those requirements.

Similarly, an employer can credit live-in’s lodging if she voluntarily agrees in writing to the credit.5 Lodging must be for full-time occupancy and must be adequate, decent, and sanitary by “usual and customary standards.”6 That means the employer may not require the live-in to share a bed.7 If he requires her to live in quarters he owns or controls, the law caps his credit at: (1) $42.33 per week for a room if she occupies it alone or $34.94 per week if she shares it; or (2) two-thirds of the rental value (but no more than $508.38 per month) for an apartment if she lives in it alone or two-thirds of the rental value (but no more than $752.02 per month) if her employer employs her and her spouse.

Overtime and Maximum Daily Hours for California Live-In Workers

Too much overtime can be a headache. California law thus entitles a live-in to a break.

Too much overtime can be a headache. California law thus entitles a live-in to a break.

California’s basic overtime law is straightforward: (1) one-and-a-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay after eight hours of work in one workday or 40 hours of work in one workweek and twice his regular rate of pay after the first 12 hours of work in one workday; and (2) one-and-a-half times his regular rate of pay for the first eight hours on the seventh day of the workweek and twice his regular rate of pay after the first eight hours of work on the seventh day of the workweek.8 If an employer fails to pay a nonexempt employee the applicable overtime rate, the employee can recover the full balance of unpaid overtime, civil penalties, and a mandatory award of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.9 

The rule are different for a nonexempt live-in domestic worker who isn’t also a personal attendant (i.e., someone who supervises, feeds, or dresses a child or person who by reason of his advanced age, physical disability, or mental deficiency needs supervision).10 The overtime rates for such a live-in reflect a compromise: time-and-a-half only after nine hours in any workday but time-and-a-half for the first nine hours on the sixth and seventh workdays of the workweek and double time after nine hours on the sixth and seventh workdays.11 In other words, a live-in who works nine hours on one of the first five days might not get overtime, but if she works for any amount of time on the sixth day, she’ll get overtime.

But familiarity breeds contempt. Live-ins need a break from their employers from time to time. California therefore entitles a live-in to at least 12 consecutive off-duty hours during each 24-hour workday.12 That means a live-in can’t work more a total span of more than 12 hours in one workday. But a live-in and her employer can mutually agree to modify her schedule if: (1) the modified schedule permits her to remain off-duty for at least three hours during the 12-hour span of work; and (2) she receives one-and-a-half times her regular rate of pay if her employer requires or permits her to work during her three off-duty hours or during her 12 consecutive off-duty hours.13


  1. Wage Order 15-2001(2)(I). 

  2. Lab. Code 1194(a). 

  3. Wage Order 15-2001(10)(C). 

  4. Wage Order 15-2001(10)(A), (D). 

  5. Wage Order 15-2001(10)(C). 

  6. Wage Order 15-2001(10)(B). 

  7. Id

  8. Lab. Code 510(a). 

  9. Lab. Code 1194(a), 2698 et seq. 

  10. Wage Order 15-2001(2)(J). 

  11. Wage Order 15-2001(3)(B). 

  12. Wage Order 15-2001(3)(A). 

  13. Id

Ben Rothman, Esq.

Ben Rothman is a Los Angeles-based attorney practicing in the areas of personal injury, employment, and workers' compensation on a "no recovery, no fee" basis. Call him at (424) 465-2948 for a free, no-obligation consultation.