Au Pair Agency Breaks Promise, and Revokes Completion Payment. Why?

by cv harquail on May 2, 2011

Dear Au Pair Mom,

Today we received our monthly newsletter from our local area counselor. On the last page, it normally indicates year-end bonuses for the au pairs; however, now we see this:

“Bonuses: There has been a change to bonuses. Au pairs who arrived before December 31, 2010 will still be eligible to receive a bonus. After this date bonuses will no longer be offered.”

(I looked back and apparently this changed in April, but I hadn’t noticed the difference until today, with our May newsletter. Most likely due to reading the letter on my phone.)

201105021207.jpgPreviously, our au pair would have received $700 at the end of the year ($200 for completing and $500 because we have a child under 2).

Our au pair is upset, obviously, and we’re a bit flabbergasted as to how they can change this after it had been advertised to the au pairs as a carrot to stay on, do their education requirement and attend cluster meetings.

I don’t see why an au pair who only wants to do a year would do the education requirement or attend cluster meetings. Our au pair then indicated that really there’s no reason to stay to do the year in the first place if something better comes up. We know she is looking for an apprenticeship when she returns home. So if she gets an offer, she would be better off going “now” than later, if that opportunity is better for her. She did say she understands how it affects the host families but her friends may not, especially since some are leaving and aren’t even looking for new families.

The end of year bonus may not motivate all au pairs, but I’m sure that for some it has encouraged them to see things through.

I also don’t see how this can be a good business decision, unless it wasn’t something that was keeping au pairs in families. Of course, then, they should change it for those who haven’t yet arrived or haven’t yet matched. To do so for those who are here, is actually a dis-incentive for them to stay. Now, if we push her in a way that she thinks is too hard, what’s keeping her?

Any other agencies have bonuses? Have they been revoked? Do they keep your au pair focused at the end of the year? Will families pay au pairs in lieu of classes if the classes are something that is an inconvenience to the family? I know our au pair was looking forwared to paying her income taxes with that money, but now… I am not sure what to do FOR her since she is upset with this. Thoughts?

Dear Broken-Promise Mom-

What an awful situation — a problem created by an agency, instead of one resolved by an agency.

If it’s true (and not some kind of weird misunderstanding) that the end-of-year payment has been revoked for some au pairs who joined the program expecting it, this decision will likely have many repercussions, none of them good. A promise to both the au pair and the family by the Agency has been broken, and for what? An indirect way to increase profits? And to keep from raising the advertised price?

We understand that Agencies find it hard to raise prices– not only is there price competition, but also they can only raise prices with each new contract; they can’t adjust the price mid-year, mid-contract. However, while I can appreciate that there may be cost increases that agencies might have to absorb — like the price of airline tickets as fuel costs rise– this seems like a strategy designed to punish those with the least power of all, the au pairs.

And, this decision should also give pause to all the host families with this Agency, since it appears to be in bad faith. When a business acts in bad faith with one partner, we no longer trust that they will act in good faith with us.

Badly done, Agency. Badly done.

If you want to do something for your au pair, calling the agency and asking to speak with someone in management is a good start. Kicking up a bit of a protest here won’t hurt either, since we don’t want other agencies to follow suit and break their promises to au pairs.

If any agencies decide to drop the end-of-year completion payment for new au pair contracts, then agencies need to put something else in place to motivate and reward au pairs who meet all their StateDept requirements and who fulfill their contracts. (These rewards wouldn’t need to be financial, but they would need to be meaningful in some way.)

Looks like a mess all around.

Parents and au pairs, what thoughts have you?

Image: Broken Promises from Fanboy30


German Au-Pair May 2, 2011 at 1:25 pm

I won’t have a completion bonus either but I know that when we DON’T complete we will have to pay our flight back so that’s somewhat motivating…
I don’t really think that 200$ completion bonus would keep anyone from not taking an important internship or something like that. If it’s THAT important, one’s gonna do it no matter what. Would you say “If you pay me 200 dollars I am ignoring an important career opprotunity”?
Of course this change really sucks for those who were promised to be given it but to those who knew from the beginning that they won’t have one, it doesn’t really make a difference.
I want to complete my year not just because of the money for the flight back home but because I WANT it. Actually before reading this post I never even considered extrinstic motivation as a necessity to complete an au pair year.
200 Dollars is much money (especially for those au pairs who have to pay a not so little fee to the agency) but I don’t feel like THAT’s people’s key argument to completing. And for the ones that need that kind of motivation to not bail on their familes 3-2 months earlier, the cost of the flight ticket might be enough.

Gianna May 2, 2011 at 3:58 pm

My agency does not offer an end of the year completion bonus – just the return of the deposit if he/she attends all of the cluster meetings and completes the education requirement. It seems to me, though, that your aupair must have signed a contract just like you did. In our agency, both the aupair and the family sign a written agreement and get a copy to keep. Was this bonus stipulated in the contract or is it a tradition ? If it is part of the contract, I don’t see how they can wiggle out of it. If it is a tradition, I don’t know. I am also wondering why the agency only notified the host families and not the aupairs. How does your agency settle legal disputes ? Do you have to sue or go to arbitration ? If you want to help your aupair, why don’t you help her contact her sending office at home ? They can put pressure on the agency

Original poster May 2, 2011 at 5:14 pm

This was in the local newsletter through March. Then in April and May it indicated they weren’t being offered. In our cluster only one arrived between Jan-March (our au pair) so it isn’t a “huge” issue. However, our AP was making plans for that money. In her arrival groups many are choosing to go home. She doesn’t know if the money would keep them here, but overall, a lack of commitment is a lack of commitment. But the difference of $700 is big for some Au pairs.

I plan to contact their corporate to see how/if they planned to really tell the au pairs, because, while it wasn’t something she signed, the LC did tell her about it during the 3 day orientation meeting and it was on 3 monthly newsletters that both host families and au pairs receive. She doesn’t plan to do a second year, so what keeps her from skipping out on the education requirement or other, since she doesn’t get a desposit back or a bonus now for doing the cluster meetings, etc?

We do have an arbitration listed, but I’m not sure if that is for au pairs or just for host families who want out of their contract.

Gianna May 2, 2011 at 8:14 pm

I think that you need to ascertain whether this is a bonus or a pledge that the aupairs post as security. If it is a pledge, then the money belongs to the aupair and I think she must be returned the funds if she completes school and education. Then, I suggest that you find out if she has a receipt and who is holding that money. I would not waste time with the LCC – go straight to the top. Do you care about staying with this agency ? If not, you can write to the State Department and send them a copy of the newsletter stating their intent to discontinue bonuses.

OP May 3, 2011 at 1:58 am

On the monthly newsletter it is called a bonus. I can see them not offering it to new people, but to list it and to talk to the AP about it and then to cancel it retroactively jut makes no sense.

No we don’t need to stay with this agency, and I do plan to write to the company, hopefully later this week, once I know a bit more about what other agencies offer or do not offer. I think it is jut plain unfair for the au pairs who arrived between January and March. Asian and South American Au pairs, if they had a child under 2 were getting $900 – that’s basically a 10% cut in pay. I wouldn’t stand for it if it were my job!

Former Aupair May 2, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Very Weird. Well I was an aupair back in 2006, but as far as I remember It was never a bonus (APIA, CultCare, Aupair Care). What we called Bonus was actually a up front deposit we pay before we start the aupair year to make sure we would complete it. I got $700, as far as I remember, but I PAID for it!!! Never heard of Bonus though…

Former AP May 3, 2011 at 5:15 am

I just completed my year in the states and my contract said straight up that the end of the year bonus was not available for all countries and we should check with our local office for more details. Since I’m from Sweden I paid a very small program (about $250). And I really had no motivation for staying my whole year, director tried to scare us a bit that we wouldn’t get our certificates if we didn’t do all of our credits and attended all meetings.
I didn’t believe her and luckily I didn’t make my HF pay $500 worth of useless classes. When I got back to Sweden a simple email saying I was home now and could I please get my diploma had my agency sending it to me.

I know that a lot of countries/agency’s removed the bonus during the 10-11 period. A lot of my friends who had come from the same country but a few months a part had different contract. You should look into what exactly the contract says. Most agencys only change the contents of the contract when the year ends so she may have legal proof that she should have her bonus.

I also wouldn’t worry to much of her leaving, an interrupted/abandoned APyear is not something anybody should want on their CV.

Julie May 3, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Our organization (the biggest one) doesn’t do bonuses–I didn’t know they even existed! If an au pair decides to leave early through our program, they are told at the beginning & throughout that they must pay for the flight home, which can be substantial, particularly given they generally are not buying it well in advance, and they do not leave “in good standing,” which means if they ever wanted to return to the US as a student or for a job, there could be visa issues. They also would not be able to return to the US as an au pair. Our organization no longer does deposits either, though au pairs do pay a program fee, which they receive back upon successful completion of the year. If they decide to return home early, they do not receive the program fee back. I totally agree that there is a reason to be upset about this change, especially if they were using this bonus to sell au pairs on their particular program. $700 can be a great deal of money to au pairs and I would definitely research your options to file a complaint (or at least submit a complaint to the BBB–agencies are very mindful of their complaints there).

Taking a Computer Lunch May 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Our agency offers completion bonuses, but some of the APs I have hosted have waived the bonus in exchange for not having to pay the subvention up-front.

To me, this smells like a rat. If your AP put up a subvention fee with promise that she would get it back or she would get a bonus from the agency at the end of the year (whether or not she has it in writing, help her make a stink with corporate). You should make a separate entreaty on the grounds that your good/excellent/brilliant AP is now less motivated to participate in the AP program and by breaking a spoken or written contract with her, they are preventing you from having the AP relationship you desired.

However, the bottom line? Is this agency stretched thin? What other fees might they add to your AP before she flies home? Will the surcharge to fly out of your community be larger? Have hosting fees increased since they made this announcement? Have they added other fees to your payment? How is access to support staff?

Dorsi May 3, 2011 at 8:42 pm

I know of an AP with APC (this is one of those times where I think it is helpful to name names) who recently went home after a second year. For her country, they changed the policy after her first year, so she received no bonus. (Though her good friend, who only stayed on year did get a bonus). This seems to be a perverse incentive. This has impacted my APs directly, so I have never gotten involved; I do wonder what the APs contracts say.

LisaExAuPair May 4, 2011 at 10:41 am

That is the opposite of what happened to me and my friends. We were with APC and when we came to the US the deposit (I think it was $ 500) was waived because they wanted more people to apply. My friends went home after a year (they did complete their program) and did not receive a bonus ($ 200), according to the agency it was because they didn’t pay the deposit. I stayed for another year and got a $ 400 bonus. This is almost two years ago, so I’m not sure if APC has changed their policy, but the whole thing seems weird.

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