Things to know when employing a Domestic Worker

Madam and Eve: Ink your relationship for domestic bliss

Many employers are still not aware they’re breaking the law when it comes to their relationship with their domestic workers. A blitz by the Western Cape Department of Labour found only 48% of households complied with the laws governing the employ of domestic workers. It’s vital we get a grip on this situation by providing our domestic employees with work contracts clarifying their terms of employment, just as we’d expect from our own employers.

Domestic workers are an integral part of the South African landscape, providing the ever more prevalent working moms with a crucial extra pair of extra hands as they rush around to get everything done.  

Can you really say thank you enough to Mavis for the care and attention she gives your children when she looks after them every day? Or the sanity she restores to your pigsty of a house where dirty dishes and toys are strewn everywhere when you fly out the door every morning?

Domestic work arrangements have been agreed very informally in the past with few employer and employee relationships documented in proper, written contracts. But, as a result of too many domestic workers exploited, working in unfavourable conditions, for too long hours and poor pay, the Department of Labour has regulated this sector.

On top of this more strict law enforcement, more domestic workers are ready to take an employer to the CCMA in event of a dispute, whether justified or not. Without some formalized agreement between employer and worker, getting a fair outcome becomes much harder.

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act requires employers to conclude a written employment agreement with their domestic workers, gardeners and childminders (including drivers of children) and those who look after the sick, aged or disabled in private homes.

These prescriptions include the following

  • Every domestic worker should receive a written payslip on payday setting out the employee’s details, the ordinary and overtime hours worked during the payment period, the applicable rate of remuneration and any deductions made by the employer.
  • No deductions may be made from a domestic worker’s pay for breakages, work clothing or meals provided. If accommodation is provided, no more than 10% of the worker’s monthly salary may be deducted as an accommodation allowance.
  • A domestic worker must be given a meal break of at least 30 minutes after every 5 hours of continuous work.
  • A domestic worker may not be required to work more than 15 hours of overtime in any week. Any overtime worked must be remunerated with additional pay or leave.
  • If a public holiday falls on a day on which a domestic worker would usually work, the employer must pay the domestic worker for the day, even if the domestic worker doesn’t work that day.
  • A domestic worker can only be called upon to work on a public holiday if there is a written agreement allowing for this. Such work must be remunerated by double pay.
  • Every domestic worker is entitled to three weeks annual leave.

The only way to clarify what each party can expect and have to contribute to the relationship is by signing a Domestic Employment Agreement prior to employment. This work contract sets out the duties, hours and place of work, wages, overtime, leave and termination of services for a clear understanding of the terms of employment.

See the South African Department of Labour’s official website, which has everything you need to know about employing domestic workers.

LawUnlocked, an online legal service which offers customised legal contracts via its website,, allows employers of domestic workers to buy their own custom-drafted domestic employment contracts for less than 10% of what a law firm would charge.

The document is drafted following a 15-minute online interview with the employer. This includes comprehensive help links to each question so employers can precisely understand the options open to them and the full meaning of any terminology used.

Whether employing someone for a few days or per month, a work contract is the only responsible and fair way to give a domestic worker the security she needs to perform her job. While tending to the legalese might not come naturally, it’s essential to establish a happy work environment. Let’s be fair: it’s a damn hard job. Would you scrub, clean and polish, 45 hours a week, for the minimum wage of R2 545.22 a month*? A work contract’s the least we can do.

*The minimum wages for domestic workers who work more than 27 and up to 45 ordinary hours per week in major metropolitan areas. This rate is the applicable rate from 1 January 2017 to 30 November 2018.


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Tarn Hodson - BA (Rhodes), LLB(UCT)

Tarn Hodson

BA (Rhodes), LLB(UCT)

LawUnlocked Customer Service