Best Practices for asking your Au Pair to work Overtime

by cv harquail on February 19, 2010

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.

birds charmlady etsy.jpg

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.

Protect your au pair’s off duty time. charmlady2.jpg

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.]

See Also:
Extra Hours: What’s fair pay when you break this taboo?


HMinPNW February 19, 2010 at 9:28 pm

With our current au pair, I laid it all out in the beginning: Sometimes we need extra hours. We pay $8/hr for extra hours. Sometimes, we purposely get babysitters to ensure that we have “back up care” when we need it– to ensure that the babysitters continue to have a good relationship with our children and us, so that if the AP doesn’t want or can’t take the extra hours, we have someone else. The rest of the time, she gets first right of refusal. When we planning to have a babysitter, I tell the AP ahead of time, and our babysitters know that the AP may be around, but is not on duty.

It felt like a weird thing to do at first, to have a babysitter there when the AP is, but I found that if I just lay it out and make it happen a couple of times, everyone gets along and doesn’t feel weird :)

Sara Duke February 19, 2010 at 10:02 pm

My question would be, “Is $8 the going rate for an adult with CPR and extensive babysitting experience (e.g. your AP), or for an adult who is an illegal resident, or a high school student?”

I have a special needs child. When I first started taking au pairs in 2001, the going rate for babysitting a special needs child was $15 an hour, which is what we offered our au pair when we gave her first right of refusal (we didn’t tell her that we had friends willing to do it for free – they felt sorry for us and wanted baby time). Now, the going rate is $20+, but we don’t need APs to work the extra hours. We have paid babysitters, when the AP is on vacation, the proper going rate for special needs children (which I must say, breaks the bank, so we usually use our own holiday time). In my neighborhood, it’s hard to get a high school student for less than $10 an hour.

I must admit that I look the other way when my APs to work for neighbors (as long as the gig doesn’t interfere with my schedule). I counsel them on the going rate, because many of them would accept what my neighbors would offer (and $6 an hour is too little for 4 kids with one in diapers in greater Washington DC — which is what one neighbors offered to pay!). Few of my APs work for neighbors after three months from their arrival – most have made friends and want to have fun. One AP, who was sending money home to support her brother in college, did continue (she had been a pediatric intensive care nurse in her native country and especially took on families of special needs children, but also traded child care with neighbors — with my permission).

Personally for me, the important thing is not to take undue advantage of the employer/employee relationship. It is very difficult for APs to say no to a HF. We do our best to make a schedule 10 days before the month begins and we are more likely to say, “We won’t need you this weekend after all,” than to ask an AP to work extra — except in Jan. & Feb. when DD is frequently critically ill and misses school (and more often than not spends a day or two in hospital). When DD falls ill, we do our best to notify the AP before she goes to bed that she is going to have to work a full day the next day. If an AP works 2 full unanticipated full weekdays (our kids are school age) then we grant the weekend off.

The payoff? Our APs tend to be absolutely enthusiastic when they work, and are willing to be flexible when we need them to be. (And I must admit, even when DH and I have weekend “date night,” we are rarely out after 10, much less 11. While most of our APs have been ready to go clubbing the minute we get home, we tell our current AP (a homebody) that it is okay for her to go to bed once the kids are asleep.

HMinPNW February 19, 2010 at 10:07 pm

(Just to be clear, $8 is fair in this area– it’s what her friends make too. And I like it at $8 because it makes it easy for me to round up & have a tip, rather than not tipping)

CT Host Mom February 19, 2010 at 11:20 pm

We go over our hours by 15 minutes a day/5 Days a week, so 1 hour 15 minutes per week, as my husband leaves for work at 8am & I get home at 5:15 pm. We made a deal that in exchange for working the extra 15 minutes per day, we give all holidays (where are offices are closed) off. It more than makes up for the extra hours she worked and our au pairs have been very happy with this arrangement. They get extra days off and can plan trips, etc, and the extra 15 minutes per day aren’t that much of an imposition on her.

Sara Duke February 19, 2010 at 11:36 pm

My standard practice is to give federal holidays off — and some family holiday days — and credit the time as if it were a working day (for my AP that would 5 hours most of the time, but before my kids were in school it was 8 3/4).

I was very jealous of my first AP because she got to spend the day with my kids and I didn’t (okay, except for the betwitching hour when they were both hungry and jealous of each other–and having been a PICU nurse, she handled it better than I). I still tend not to work too many extra hours at work – I really want to see my kids, smell them, hug them, and be with them before they turn into cranky teenagers. If I’m not on deadline, I go home after 8 hours without batting an eye, because I’m not going to get this time back — ever. (Although I do tend to work after they go to bed and short myself sleep in the process.)

Am I alone in wanting to spend as much time with my kids as possible (is it because my daughter is medically fragile and has already coded, and therefore I feel like each day is precious and not to be missed)? I paid dearly for leaving work on time during the preschool years, but I don’t have one regret (and I certainly don’t regret the five weeks I took off when my daughter had brain surgery – I would have been useless at work after not sleeping by her side at night anyway).

ExAP February 20, 2010 at 12:51 pm

It’s great that you really want to spend time with your kids!!
Unfortunately, I made the experience that having children, love them and wanting to spend time with them is different in every country. And while in the U.S., it seemed as if a lot of the parents there have kids just because it is usual, it seemd like we have a carreer, a car, a house, now we just need kids.
I DO know that many other parents don’t think like that! Just to clarify.
And there are situations when you just can’t do anything else than working instead of spneding time with your kids, for different reasons.
I fully understand that.
But still, it seemds like U.S. parents get much more tired of their kids and want the au pair to cover even though they are home all day. That is just sad.

Just my 2 cents ;)

MomEsq February 20, 2010 at 1:54 am

Great post – informative, useful, and practical. Thank you.
-Host Mom, 7 months

D February 20, 2010 at 10:46 am

We have been really lucky. Our past 2 au pairs volunteer extra hours from time to time….out of the kindness of their heart. (just so we can have a night together once & while) I guess thats part of being a family. :) Are we taking advantage? Absolutely not!

To calculate hours & overtime is like we should have employees in our home, like a maid….or hired help. I’m sorry, we love our au pairs like a daughter, probably why we never have an issue. In fact we get back 10 fold. I think if we were to have an au pair tell us the going rate on a sitter, I would probably seek replacement……as undoubtedly we don’t have the part of the family we are looking for.

But ya, thats why the agencies have rules, to protect girls that are truly taking advantage of by families. Sadly that does happen.

– D

Edina Stone February 20, 2010 at 11:55 am

Hi CV,

I know it may be very tempting, but having your au pair work overtime is actually against the law. The U.S. Department Of State limits the work hours the au pair may work during a given day and week (copied from their site):

“an agency may not…” (5) Place an au pair with a host family unless a written agreement between the au pair and the host family detailing the au pair’s obligation to provide child care has been signed by both the au pair and the host family prior to the au pair’s departure from his or her home country. Such agreement shall clearly state whether the au pair is an EduCare program participant or not. Such agreement shall limit the obligation to provide child care services to not more than 10 hours per day or more than 45 hours per week unless the au pair is an EduCare participant. Such agreement shall limit the obligation of an EduCare participant to provide child care service to not more than 10 hours per day or more than 30 hours per week. ”

The above law was put into place after the infamous Louis Woodward trial where the au pair “shook” the baby until dead. Ms. Woodward was working outside of the 45 hours and the jury also found that this au pair was also working more than 10 hours a day, due to the hectic schedules of the baby’s parents. Ms. Woodward claimed she was tired and overwhelmed with the care of a colicky baby for more hours than she was supposed to work.

I would say that parents need to respect this particular law because it is in place to protect your children from exhausted and overwhelmed au pairs whose judgment and behavior might be significantly undermined when working “overtime.”

We have to remember, these au pairs are merely girls and not yet adults – and thus their ability to withstand the stress and strive of “parenthood” has not yet been tested.


Edina Stone
Founder & CEO
Au Pair Agency Consumer Resource

Anonymous2 February 20, 2010 at 3:02 pm

I agree with Edina. Saying it is okay to break this particular law (even if it’s okay with your au pair) is akin to saying it is okay to break the law in regards to stealing, cheating on your taxes, etc. The law and the agency rules are clear cut and are not “up for negotiation.”

Calif Mom February 20, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Edina and Anonymous2 (whom I believe is a counselor, given her personal knowledge of more than one family that has been kicked out of the program)–

CV and the other commenters in the initial post on this topic made clear that working more than 45 hours is not a legal thing to do. Further, anyone who is a host has had this beaten over their heads by the websites and the hard copy forms, and again verbally during the signing up and matching processes.

Equally clear from the commenters is that while illegal, it happens.

It’s like speeding: some people do, some don’t, and everyone hopes that no one gets injured along the way. I think it’s good that CV has included some helpful concepts and best practices that minimize the chances of people being hurt by it, if they choose to. She’s not endorsing it.

aria February 20, 2010 at 4:14 pm

:D Exactly, Calif Mom, you posted before I could finish mine.

Anonymous2 February 20, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Nope..not a counselor :-) Just very knowledgeable of the program regulations.

aria February 20, 2010 at 4:13 pm

I think everyone is in agreement that it’s officially Against The Rules, to make myself redundant. -.- That’s not what the post is about. And besides, who said this blog is only about American families/au pairs? Laws are different in other countries.

Anon3 February 20, 2010 at 4:27 pm

It’s also against the law for APs to babysit for any family or do any kind of job for extra money. If the AP chooses to work more and earn extra $ in her free time should the HPs report her so her Visa is revoked (according to the law that is)? Should they turn a blind eye? If the AP wants the extra $ and is taking babysitting jobs for the neighbors, but HF can not have a date night because they will be over 45, isn’t that a strange situation?

Hula Gal February 20, 2010 at 7:17 pm

I think there was a previous post that addressed this type of scenario.

Hula Gal February 20, 2010 at 7:20 pm

I mean the second part about the HP needing their au pair but she is babysitting for the neighbors. I personally would not turn my au pair in for violating the terms of her visa by working another job. If she worked another job but was still a great au pair for us than her second job is not something I would get involved with. If she was not a great au pair I would ask for a rematch.

StephinBoston February 20, 2010 at 5:05 pm

I think this post wasn’t about breaking the law it was, “what if it happens?” What if one week, you are STUCK, I’m sure it’s happened to ALL of us. We don’t have family around, our friends work like we do. 49 weeks out of 51, we respect the rules (heck, she hasn’t worked more than three 45 hour work weeks since she started at the end of September) but it does happen.

This week is the perfect example, I was of town for work, my husband had a deadline. Au pair works 2.5 hours extra because it’s February vacation and the kids have no school. Yes, if I had know in advance I would have put them in camp or something, I couldn’t, I was asked to travel late last week. So I paid her $10 per hour she worked extra. She feels appreciated, she knows I value her time and knows I’m not taking advantage. I also apologized for the long week.
Yes, I broke the law, was anyone taken advantage of? Not at all.

Anonymous2 February 20, 2010 at 8:17 pm

I went back and reread the post after reading yours and I’m afraid that I didn’t get the post as being “what if it happens…” as you mentioned, especially when the points are titled: Keep Overtime Hours to a Minimum and Make Overtime Optional Not Required and talk about balancing overtime weeks with short schedule weeks.

As host moms we should working to PROTECT the au pair program and its rules, not looking for ways to intentionally circumvent them.

D February 20, 2010 at 6:09 pm

ps. – Our Au Pair volunteers time to be nice but we usually give her extra time off during the week. We never pay our au pair extra, we simply give her more time another day, its that easy. And why would anyone want an au pair watching kids 50 hours a week, thats insane!

MAmama February 25, 2010 at 5:45 pm

As a long-time host mom, I think that going over the 45 hours per week should absolutely be the exception and not the rule. I see this as a way to protect my family, my children, my au pair, and the integrity of a valuable Department of State program. If, as a family, you routinely go over the hours, you need to find some other form of back-up child care. We all know emergencies happen, but that’s the only time the hours should be violated.

The real issue I wanted to address is au pair’s working outside of your home. I feel very, very strongly that this should never happen under any circumstances. First, I want my au pair to be fresh and enegized to care for my children – doing that 40-45 hours per week is tiring enough without tacking on a few other hours around the neighborhood! Second, (and this is the real point), what if something were to happen while she was caring for those other children? I feel I need to protect my au pair from being in a vulnerable position like that. What if she was using my car to drive someone else’s children in that situation – who would be responsible? What would happen to my relationship with neighbors or friends if something went wrong when my au pair was babysitting for them? Your agency probably could not help or support your au pair if she was working outside her contract and by working for another family, she is breaking her contract and would be sent home/removed from the program.

Ok, I’ll get off my soap box now – but, please for your own protection and that of your au pair, do not allow her to work for other families!

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