Finding household help - maids, gardeners, cooks, babysitters, child care and personal assistants


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As you know, full or part-time domestic help is hard to find and prohibitively expensive for the average person, not to mention a retiree, in the United States. This is not the case in Costa Rica. A live-in maid or other full-time help usually costs about $400 per month. Often you can hire a couple for a bargain price, with the woman working as a maid and the man working as a full-time gardener and watchman. Before hiring any employee, be aware of all your requirements as an employer. In Costa Rica, a maid usually does everything from washing clothes to taking care of small children. You can also use your maid to stand in line for you or run errands and bargain for you in stores, since foreigners often pay more for some items because of their naivete and poor language skills. Be careful! After you have had an employee for a number of years, they can begin to think of you as a parental figure. As a result, it is not unusual for an employee to ask for loans, advances, help with money for family members who wish to build a home, furnish their house, provide school clothes for their children, or provide medical care and medications for family members.

General handymen and carpenters are also inexpensive. If you are infirm, one of the above people can assist you with many daily tasks. To find quality help, check with other retirees for references or look in local newspapers (Tico Times, La Republica or La Nacion) or Gabriela Domestic Services.

Gardeners, maintenance, construction and other workers should be asked if they are registered with the Caja as a trabajador independiente and if they have individual coverage for workers' compensation. If they are, doing business with them is probably safe as long as they do business with others as well. However, if they are not legal and do not have insurance, one either needs to add them to a payroll or not work with them and look for someone else.

Labor Laws for Domestic Workers in Costa Rica

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Unless your business is going to be a one-person operation, you will need to hire employees. Be very careful, because the labor laws are stringent and there are minimum salaries depending on the type of work. Ignoring these regulations can be very expensive for you if you get caught breaking the labor law. Costa Rica's labor laws for domestic workers are even stricter, and difficult to interpret. All full time domestic employees have the right to Social Security benefits from the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (roughly the equivalent of the U.S. Social Security System). This important institution pays for sick leave, general health care, pension funds, disability pensions and maternity care. Costa Rican labor law states all workers must be signed up with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and be protected by workers compensation insurance for work related accidents. Employees and owners both have to be signed up. All workers, whether they are hourly, salaried or independent, must be covered. Workers should be put on a payroll and the corresponding amount paid into the social security system. If the employees are temporary, they too should be signed up because the law states so even though the system seems to be unfair.

It is the employer's responsibility to pay monthly Social Security payments for each employee. The employer must make monthly payments of about 22 percent of the worker's monthly wage, and an additional nine percent is deducted from the employee's earnings. In return, the worker is entitled to the Social Security services mentioned above. New employees must be registered with Social Security within a week of being hired. All new employees must register in an office in downtown San Jose (2223-9890). There is an automatic trial period of one month for domestic help, during which time an employee may be released without notice or termination pay. One huge mistake is giving the employee too many "in-kind" benefits. These include anything not in the form of money. For example, meals, clothes, education, lodging and transportation. In Costa Rica, these "in-kind" perks which an employee receives can become part of their payment for work performed.

On The Job Injury Insurance for Domestic Workers - INS

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As alluded to above, it is also mandatory to insure employees against work-related accidents (seguro contra riesgos del trabajo). A workers' compensation policy should be purchased from the Instituto Nacional de Seguros de Costa Rica, the national insurance company, to cover work accidents. This coverage can be included in a homeowner's policy if only a few workers are involved. This type of worker's compensation costs 8,000 colones monthly for domestic employees and must be reapplied for annually. By not covering an employee with workers compensation you are setting yourself up for possible problems that will have to be settled in court.

Minimum Wage for Domestic Workers

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Employers must also pay at least minimum wage to employees. This wage is set by the Ministry of Labor and depends on the job and skills required. Average wages for unskilled workers start at about $120 per month. Live-in help can receive an additional 50 percent more that is not actually paid to them but is used when computing certain benefits and bonuses. Live-in domestic help cannot be required to work more than 12 hours a day, although few expect this. Live-in workers usually work-eight hours a day like other workers. Most regular employees work an eight-hour day, five days per week. Live-in employees can work more than this but have to be given some time off. Furthermore, employees are entitled to a paid vacation depending on their length of employment and whether they are full-or part-time. The law requires one day of vacation for every month of employment. A two-week vacation is due after 50 weeks of work. The employer can choose the time the vacation is taken and can require that half be taken at two different times, but they must be granted within 15 weeks of the time when they were due. Upon termination of the employment contract, unused vacation time should be paid using as a base the average of salary earned during the last six months.

Aguinaldo - End of Year Bonus for Domestic Help

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Employers must also pay aguinaldo (end-of-year bonus) if an employee has worked from December 1 through November 30, or an amount proportionate to the time worked, if less than a year. The amount is the equivalent of one month's salary. This bonus should be paid in early December. Do not forget that live-in employees receive an additional 50 percent year-end bonus. Employees must also be paid for eight official holidays: January 1, Easter Thursday and Friday, April 11, May 1, July 25, August 15, September 15 and December 25.

Maternity Leave for Household Help

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A maternity leave of one month before a baby's birth is required; the employee receives 50 percent of her normal salary. Dismissal of a pregnant employee is also a bad idea, as it is frowned upon and could be very costly to the employer. Maternity leave is a total of four months, one month before birth and three after. The author believes it is at 60 percent pay, but am not sure about that. New mothers are entitled to up to a year of lactancia, an hour for breast-feeding. In practice, I've seen most people leave an hour early. The author does not recall anyone taking it at lunchtime. He believes this is granted by the doctor for three months' intervals (although he has never asked anyone how they decide if you are entitled to three more months). The author does not believe there are any restrictions as to, length of time at work, etc.

Severence Pay for Domestic Workers

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In some cases, when a worker is terminated, it is the employer's responsibility to pay severance pay, all unused vacation time, the proportionate aguinaldo, and any wages due. An employee must be given notice prior to being laid off. Severance pay, or cesantia, is usually one month's salary for each year worked. If an employee resigns voluntarily, the employer does not owe severance pay. After three months of employment, an employee has the right to receive notice in the event of termination of employment without just cause by the employer (if notice is not given, he must be paid one month's salary, or a fraction if he has been employed for less than one year). If the worker is fired without justification after at least three months of service, the employer has to pay a severance payment, the amount of which increases in accordance with the time worked and could be up to 22 days per year worked, with a maximum calculated on the basis of eight years, all according to a specific calculation table indicated by the Labor Code.

Minimum Wage for Workers in Costa Rica

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While countries such as the United States and Canada have standard minimum wages, Costa Rica has a separate minimum wage for nearly every type of job. Monthly minimum salaries are reviewed by the government every six months (January 1 and June 1). Every six months, the government negotiates salary increases with various employee unions. If the negotiations fail, as they do from time to time, the president may issue a decree setting the new salaries in conjunction with the Consejo Nacional de Salarios. These prices have increased over the last three years, so check with the references below for current minimum wages. Unskilled workers earn about $230, semi-skilled workers $260, skilled workers $285, technicians $290, technicians with higher education $450 and employees with a university degree $530. To give you a more precise idea of what salaries are like in Costa Rica, here are some samples of the approximate starting minimum monthly wages as established by the Labor Ministry or Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social: accountant $400, bartender $240, bus driver $250, carpenter $240, chauffeur $175, clerk $175, computer operator $300, dentist or doctor $1000, other professionals $430, farm hand $125, domestic worker (maid) $146 plus food, executive bilingual secretary $375, guard $180.00, journalist $550.00, messenger $175, nurse $375, plant supervisor $400, phone operator $170, secretary $295, tour guide $250 and unskilled laborer $120.

Only inexperienced workers receive these starting salaries. Experienced workers command higher wages. Keep in mind that these figures vary and are subject to change at any time. Such factors as bonuses and other perks also increase actual salaries. A list of minimum salaries is available at legal bookstores and some newsstands.

Many professionals work for salaries established by their colegios or trade organizations. For instance, a lawyer is supposed to get 10 percent of the value of any contract he or she prepares. Companies try to pay about the legal minimum, although more enlightened ones reward good employees with higher salaries. Although the salaries appear low by North American standards, they are good for Latin America, and employees here have perks such as pensions, free medical care and other benefits in additional to their salaries. This site provides you a list of all of the basic salaries http://www.mtss.go.cr/temas-laborales/salarios/lista-salarios.html The author has touched only briefly on the main points of Costa Rican labor law because it is very complex. If you have any questions, we advise you to contact the Ministry of Labor (2223-7166) or better yet your attorney. Have your lawyer help with any labor related matters to avoid unnecessary problems arising between you and your hired help. For assistance in finding household help in Costa Rica, go to Gabriela Domestic Services.