Devyani case: Maid`s salary doesn`t include cash, meals, housing, says US law

Payments made to the domestic maid of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in cash or to Indian bank accounts and provision of service accommodation and meals as part of salary are grounds that may not be in compliance with US notifications in this regard.

Washington: Payments made to the domestic maid of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in cash or to Indian bank accounts and provision of service accommodation and meals as part of salary are grounds that may not be in compliance with US notifications in this regard.

Through a notification dated April 20, 2012, sent to all foreign missions in the US, including that of India, the State Department specifically ruled that deductions from wages will not be allowed for domestic workers.

The State Department reiterated this again through another notification on September 24, 2013 in which it determined that "providing meals and housing to domestic workers is for the benefit of the employer" and thus advised foreign missions that it is not permissible for the employer to withhold from domestic workers` wages any amount for meals and housing.

By doing so, the State Department made changes in its previous notification of March 22, 2011, in which it had determined that "it would be reasonable" for employers of domestic workers to deduct "no more than 20 percent" of wages for a minimum of three daily meals.

However, the department determined that housing provided to domestic workers is for the benefit of the employer and "this advises that it is not permissible to withhold" from wages any amount for lodging.

"Further, the Department does not allow deductions from wages for any other expenses, such a provision of medical care, medical insurances or travel," said the state department notification dated September 24, 2013, which was similar to that mentioned in the 2011 notification too.

The notification is part of the department`s efforts to combat trafficking in persons, given the large scale incidents in this regard especially in Washington DC, which many say is the worst kept dirty secret in the American capital.

The State Department for the last few years has been issuing annual notifications to all foreign missions with strict regulations related to domestic workers including the minimum wages.

"The State Department regularly and proactively reminds diplomatic missions of US requirements relating to the employment of domestic workers present in the US on A-3 or G-5 non-immigrant status, including via circular diplomatic notes," a State Department spokesperson told PTI.

The last few notes were distributed to the foreign missions in the US, including that of India, on September 16, 2009; March 22, 2011; April 20, 2012; and September 24, 2013.

The notifications state that the wages of domestic workers must be paid through either check or via electronic transfer of funds in a US bank account. They clearly say that cash payments would not be permissible.

The 2009 notification, which is sent to the foreign missions every year, also asks the chiefs of missions to maintain for the duration of actual employment plus three years, a copy of the contract and proof of wage payments such as cancelled checks or electronic fund transfers, records of daily and weekly hours worked, including overtime, and record of any deductions made.

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