Based on the overwhelming response to the post from NJ Dad wanting to know more about common practices when folks ask their au pairs to work overtime, I thought it would be a good idea to summarize the key findings.
Just to be clear– nobody is recommending that you expect your AP to work over 45 hrs.
We all know that (in the USA) this is against the rules, and for good reason. The purpose of this post is to make sure that parents who break the rules do so thoughtfully. There are a lot of things to consider — fair pay, power dynamics, exhaustion, and so on. Some people may not be able to parse the distinctions inherent in the idea of breaking the rules ‘fairly’, which is fine. No one is recommending that you break the rules, and so this post may not be useful to your family. However, any host parents who unintentionally or intentionally go over 45 hrs a week on occasion should follow the best practices outlined here. The point here is to minimize the damage to all concerned by making sure folks know what is entailed when you ask your au pair to work more than 45 hrs per week.
Best Practices Once You Break the Rules
Pay your au pair overtime.
Make overtime pay somewhere between the going rate for babysitting (e.g., $10/hr) and minimum wage. Paying your au pair the hourly equivalent of her weekly stipend divided by 45 just won’t cut it — that rate accounts for her room & board, which are already paid for by the time overtime begins. Also, your au pair will soon learn what the going rate is for babysitting, and if you are far off he or she may feel taken advantage of.
Remember that that au pairs can get tempted by the thought of earning extra money, and agree to overtime hours when it isn’t really isn’t good for them. You don’t want an au pair to be completely worn out, or else s/he will be too exhausted to give your child(ren) the kind of loving care you want for them. Don’t tempt your au pair to work more than she can easily handle– it’s not good for anyone.
Make overtime optional, not required.
You are already breaking the rules, as you know. And, you should not require or expect your au pair to break the rules. S/he needs to have the option to say no, and you need to have a backup babysitter.
Make it *easy* for your au pair to say no if s/he needs to say no. Have a backup babysitter. Ask for extra hours in advance so s/he can plan off duty time. Don’t be mad at your au pair or express disapproval because she does not want to break the rules.
Keep overtime hours to a minimum– 5 hours a week is a lot of extra hours on top of her regular 45.
When you schedule your au pair for overtime, make sure that a good chunk of his or her schedule covers times when your kids are asleep. I feel much less guilty asking my au pair to work an occasional late evening to cover my bookclub if I know the kids will be in bed 4 hours before I get home. Some of these 45+ hours need to be calm times when being ‘on duty’ does not mean running after toddlers, or breaking up fights between the twins.
Recognize that even if your au pair is fine with working extra hours when s/he first arrives, s/he may be less willing to be on duty so much when s/he starts to have friends and an independent social life.
Overtime hours are not all the same.
Consider that 5 or 6 extra hours on a weekend night might feel more (or less) precious to your au pair than extra hours during the week. And, a two 12 hour days may feel more arduous than an extra four hours on a Saturday afternoon. Juice your au pair’s compensation accordingly. Consider giving him or her extra vacation days — NOT to “pay” in kind for those extra hours– put up some cash for those. But give her extra time to recuperate.
If your au pair works less than 45 hours during a week, but you ask your au pair to work more than 10 hours in a given day, you should still consider compensating her extra or differently for those plus 10 hours. (Follow the same logic as if she worked some other hourly job.) Find a way to take that into account.
If you are going to try to balance overtime weeks with weeks with short schedules, keep scrupulous track of what you are doing in a way that your au pair clearly understands. You can’t expect that your au pair will remember all those weeks she worked 35 hours when she’s overwhelmed the weeks she’s working 45+.
Overtime hours cut into your au pair’s other activities– not just socializing, but also traveling, sleeping and taking classes. Be sure that s/he is still able to take the classes s/he signed up for.
- Rules exist for a reason. If/when you don’t adhere to them, you do run some risks. If you can’t adhere to them, think hard about what else you can do for childcare coverage.
- When you intentionally break the rules, it makes it harder for you to enforce your own rules with your au pair. You can get into a kind of blackmail quid pro quo…
- Every au pair-family situation is different, so what works this year might not work next year.
Finally, stay attentive to your motives and your au pair’s emotions. Don’t think about “getting extra” or taking advantage of your au pair…. not that you would, but sometimes we can lose track of the difference between how we see things and how our au pairs see things (Duh.)
[Note: Host family emergencies are different situations than intentionally-scheduled overtime.]