Washington Law Review

Article

The Law of Intimate Work

October 30, 2015 | 90 Wash. L. Rev. 1167

Abstract: This Article introduces the concept of intimate work—intimate services provided by paid workers to a range of consumers—and seeks to unify its treatment in law. The concept explains multiple exceptions to work law that have previously been viewed as random and even contradictory. From the daycare worker to the divorce lawyer, the nurse to the hairstylist, intimate work introduces an intimate party—the consumer—into the arm’s-length employer-employee dyad on which work law is premised. This disruption leads to limited enforcement of non-compete agreements, the waiver or imposition of fiduciary duties, and exceptions to wage-and-hour and antidiscrimination law, among other consequences.

The current ad hoc approach to intimate work does harm. Law's separate regulation of intimacy and work fails to recognize the special value and vulnerability generated when the two overlap. At times, law protects only a narrow subset of intimate work, as the existing approach to non-compete agreements reveals. At other times, law gets intimate work backward, taking away protection at precisely the moment more protection is needed, as is the case with antidiscrimination law. The resulting law permits employers to promote discrimination in the formation of intimate work bonds, to discipline intimate workers who act to benefit consumers, to expose intimate workers and consumers to the abuse of personal information, and to break valuable intimate work bonds with impunity. These harms are only magnified with the rise of intimate work.

This Article proposes a unified law of intimate work sensitive to the value and vulnerability it generates. This law has implications for a wide swath of doctrines, and for gender equality, as women are especially harmed by the failure to value intimate work. Much of this law can be achieved by analogical adaptation of time-proven doctrines. For example, law should no longer ignore lost intimate work bonds as an injury when evaluating non-compete agreements or crafting remedies for termination. In other situations, new approaches are needed, such as limits on employers' ability to cultivate discriminatory consumer preferences. In the end, this new law of intimate work is designed to protect intimate workers and consumers while valuing relationships that are central to everyday life.

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