Labor Laws for Household Help
Costa Rican law defines domestic help as anyone who provides paid assistance to you or your family in the form of cleaning, cooking, washing clothes, ironing or other household duties that do not generate an income for you, the employer. Local residents often have household help at least once per week, as domestic workers charge very affordable rates – about $2-$3 per hour. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS) strictly governs the laws related to domestic help, and as an employer, it’s important to educate yourself on your legal duties to your household worker, known as an empleada.
What is the minimum wage?
The MTSS does not set a minimum wage for domestic workers; therefore you must come to a contractual agreement with your employee. Domestic help may be paid per hour or by fixed salary.
Is there an employment grace period?
During the first three months of employment, either party may terminate the professional relationship without incurring any financial or legal responsibility.
What is the maximum work day/week?
A maximum workday is calculated as eight hours over six working days, or a total of 48 hours per week. At night, this time is reduced to six hours daily, or 36 hours per week. However, the law allows domestic help to work up to ten hours per day and eight hours at night, as long as they do not work more than 48 or 36 hours weekly, respectively. Overtime is set at a maximum of four hours per day, for a total of twelve hours worked per day, but these hours may not be permanent. Overtime is paid at time and half.
Furthermore, all workers are entitled to a one-hour break per eight hours of work, or a proportional rest period for workdays over three hours. Domestic helpers are entitled to at least one full day off per week. The employer and employee should agree upon this day, though it must occur on a Sunday at least twice per month.
Do I have to pay vacation days?
Yes, all domestic help – both hourly and salaried – are entitled to two weeks paid vacation every year, which will accrue after the first 50 weeks of employment. Before the first 50 weeks, an employee will earn one day of vacation for every month of work. The following national holidays are also paid: New Year’s (January 1), Juan Santamaria Day (April 11), Maundy Thursday and Black Friday (Holy Week), Labor Day (May 1), Annexation of Guanacaste Day (July 25), Mother’s Day (August 15), Independence Day (September 15), and Christmas (December 25).
Do I have to pay my worker’s Caja or other benefits?
Yes, you are required to pay your worker’s Caja (CCSS) benefits. According to labor law, you may withhold 8.17% of your employee’s pay for his or her portion of the Caja payment; you are responsible for the remaining percentage, which is equivalent to about 22% of your employee’s monthly salary.
What about the yearly bonus?
The aguinaldo is an end-of-year bonus required by law. It is equivalent to one month’s salary, and must be paid within the first twenty days of December. To calculate the bonus, add up the total amount you paid your employee during the last working period of December-November and divide this sum by twelve.
What do I do if I need to fire or let an employee go?
If the employee has been working for less than six months, no notice is needed. An employee that has worked 3-6 months requires one week’s notice, and an employee that has worked 6 months to one year needs a 15-day notice. A one-month notice is required for employees of more than one year. If you do not give notice, you must pay the equivalent salary had the employee worked throughout the notice period. During the notice period, your employee is legally entitled to one paid day per week to search for another job. Employer and employee must agree upon this day.
Am I required to pay severance?
All employees are entitled to severance pay of some sort, paid on the last day of employment, whether the employee is fired or laid off. A worker who is fired is paid only his acquired vacation days and aguinaldo portion earned so far that year. An employee who is laid off is entitled to the above plus the following:
- 3-6 months of employment: One week’s salary
- 6 months-1 year: Two week’s salary
- 1 year: 19.5 days salary per year employed
- 2 years: 20 days salary per year employed plus any fraction of a year superior to 6 months, which must be treated as a full year for severance purposes
- 3 years: 20.5 days salary per year or fraction superior to six months employed
- 4 years: 21 days salary per year or fraction superior to six months employed
- 5 years: 21.24 days salary per year or fraction superior to six months employed
- 6 years: 21.5 days salary per year or fraction superior to six months employed
- 7-9 years: 21.5 days salary per year or fraction superior to six months employed
- 10 years: 21.5 days salary per year or fraction superior to six months employed
- 11 years: 21 days salary per year or fraction superior to six months employed
- 12 years: 20.5 days salary per year or fraction superior to six months employed
- 13+ years: 20 days salary per year or fraction superior to six months employed