San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Hiring a Maid: A Look at Costa Rican Labor Laws

MAIDS and their employers are bound by labor laws under the Ministry of Labor. Though some employers sidestep legalities and issues such as health insurance and taxes by paying under the table, the labor laws explained here apply to everyone, or should at least serve as a guide.According to the law, each maid should be paid at least the minimum wage, adjusted by perks such as room and board if the employer provides it. The Labor Ministry provides a Web site (in Spanish) that outlines the rules: current minimum for a full-time domestic employee is ¢72,586 ($150) per month, plus room and board, a rate that changes every few months as the colon devalues. Those who work for 50 weeks or more are entitled to yearly bonuses, aguinaldos, that are generally equivalent to one month’s pay. Eight percent should be deducted from the salary for the Social Security System (Caja) for health, disability, retirement and life insurance, as well as 1% for the Banco Popular. More specific rules are available on the Ministry’s Web site.HOWEVER, many employers pay more. Virginia Alfaro runs a maid agency that helps families and out-of-work maids find each other (see separate story). She said the vast majority of her clients pay their employees according to the amount of work they do, which depends on the size of the house and the number of other employees, among other factors.She suggested a monthly wage of ¢105,000 ($220) for a maid who works alone in a house of a reasonable size and does all the cooking, cleaning, ironing and miscellaneous chores, and ¢90,000-100,000 ($185-205) per month for each employee in a household with two, in which case it is assumed that they do less work every day than a single maid. To reach Alfaro in San José, call 231-5140.The ministry stipulates a 12-hour workday with a one-hour break. Beyond that, employees should be paid time and a half. Every week, workers are entitled to a half-day off, which can be any day that everyone agrees on, but should fall on a Sunday twice a month.Workers 15-18 years old cannot work more than six hours per day, six days a week.All employees must have 15 days of paid vacation every year, and are entitled to take half the day off on official holidays.If employers want them to work on those days, they pay time and a half for anything more than a half-day.When arrangements don’t work out between maids and their employers, maids can leave or employers can fire them.When a maid leaves of her own accord after having worked 50 weeks in a year, she is due an aguinaldo; if she leaves before having worked 50 weeks, her aguinaldo is prorated and she is due payment for vacation days – 1.25 days for every month she worked in the year.When a maid is fired, depending on the reasons for dismissal, she is due a cesantía – a severance payment calculated by the Labor Ministry’s labor relations department (221-1538). For all labor-related questions, call 800-TRABAJO (800-872-2256).NICARAGUANS and other Central Americans from outside Costa Rica may not have permission to live or work in the country. If this is the case, it is illegal to hire them and they could be deported at any time. Also, foreigners living here on tourist visas are not allowed to hire employees.Many people do, however, hire undocumented workers. In such cases, the employees can try to get legal permission to work or they can continue to work illegally and risk deportation.Nine percent of Nicaraguans in Costa Rica are working illegally, according to Johnny Ruiz, chief of the Labor Ministry’s immigration labor department.Even illegal workers have rights, however. Labor officials and Immigration officials work in different buildings, and, as Ruiz said, “It’s not up to us to figure out if someone is here legally or not; we just assess the (labor) problem.”Therefore, anyone with an ID, even an expired passport, can report labor law infractions to the ministry and get help, Ruiz said – including maids working illegally who are let go without severance.FOREIGN maids can obtain temporary permission to work as extensions of their tourist visas, according to article 66 of the General Law of Immigration. They need to request it and present all their documents to the Department of Temporary Permissions and Extensions of Immigration while within the legal limits of their tourist visas, which may mean they have to leave the country and re-enter, said Immigration Director Marco Badilla. The application process should take about 30 days if all the requirements are met.The temporary permission is only for work as a maid – cleaning, cooking and ironing, for example – in a home in Costa Rica, Badilla added. It doesn’t extend to other kinds of work or work in other countries.Maids wanting to accompany their employers to the United States must contact the U.S. Embassy (519-2000, for information on requesting a visa. Workers going to other countries with their employers can contact those countries’ embassies or consulates in Costa Rica for more information.

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