Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Laws regarding servants

Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Servant registry office
Loretta reports:

On many occasions, we’ve talked about servants’ work and the cost of keeping them (here, here, here, here—and more if you click on the "servants" label at right).

What many of us are not aware of are the various laws enacted to protect servant as well as master.

Very likely, at least a few items on these pages will surprise some of our readers.  They certainly surprised me.  Masters did not have quite the power one would expect.  Notice how many decisions about employees needed to be brought before magistrates.  This might have been a mere formality, magistrates usually being people of some standing in a community and likely to take the employer’s side.  All the same, it’s interesting to discover that servants as well as master had some protection.  And please do note the paragraph dealing with pregnant servants.

Laws re servants

 —The Servant's Guide and Family Manual  (1831)

Image: Thomas Rowlandson, Register office for the hiring of servants (ca 1800-1805) courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.


Sarah said...

One does, however, wonder if these laws were found more in the breach than the observance; if the servants did not know they were protected and were not encouraged to find out, they might not know their rights...

Anonymous said...

There's some protection for servants who get ill or hurt, in that they can't be discharged before the year is up, nor shorted on their pay; and tbe same for a previously known pregnancy.
On the other hand, if you can get a magistrate to agree to terminate a servant's contract after 11 months, the servant doesn't get 11/12ths of the yearly wage, but gets nothing!
And the same if the servant gets a magistrate to agree to break a yearly contract for witholding of adequate food & drink or wages- the servant doesn't get a proportional wage for the period already served.

It does somewhat explain the stories of servant girls being thrown out as soon as someone discovers they're pregnant, as according to this law keeping them on for a short while means the employer becomes liable for them until a month after the birth.

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