Can you dock her pay if she owes you money? Poll

by cv harquail on August 14, 2009

Are there any situations when it’s fair for you to withhold or ‘dock’ your au pair’s pocket money?

We skirted around this issue in a previous conversation about when your au pair refuses to work, but never answered it directly. Now, we’ve got a topic request (on Skribit) with a very specific situation:

You AP has a car accident that was completely her fault, and costly car repairs must be made. Your insurance will cover all but the deductible, which is $500 (following the recommendation of your Au Pair Agency). However, despite the fact that you discussed car insurance and what would happen if there was an accident, your AP is refusing to contribute to the deductible. What do you do?

Let’s assume that, since the accident was due entirely to the Au Pair’s carelessness, you have asked her to pay the entire $500. (some readers might disagree with this, but go with me here…) She won’t pay.

Would you think it is fair to withold some of her pocket money to pay the deductible?

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You need to be completely confident that you covered all of the issues related to car accidents before this accident occured, preferably by having these points in your family handbook.

  • The deductible is $500.
  • If accident is caused by her, she pays all $500.
  • If there is doubt about the cause, you pay $250 and she pays $250.
  • Your au pair has a decent understanding of how car insurance works in the US.
  • Also, she understands that the out of pocket cost for the deductible is only one part of the total cost of the accident… those costs included loss of use of the car, depreciation in the value of the car, and increased insurance rates (likely) for your family in the future.

In this case, you’ve eliminated issues about whether she understands her responsibility, and all that is left is a question of whether or not she’ll pony up her share of the costs.

Here are two options:

1. Withhold her pay/ garnish her pocket money.

Although I think it is likely against the ‘rules’ of most agencies to withhold part of the au pair’s pocket money, I would. I’d do it in a way that spread the repayments over time, maybe with $50/wk for 10 weeks. You’ll be making a trade-off between the time you have a potentially resentful au pair and a potentially awkward payday, and the amount of money that the au pair needs to do without each week. Keep in mind that 10 weeks of a grumpy au pair is a lot of time, and yet $50 is less than 1/3rd of a week’s pay.

Announce to the Au Pair that this is the fairest way to make sure she covers her responsibility while still having enough spending money, and that you both will keep a written record of deductions and payments.

[I like to write on the calendar on the day our au pair is paid, and how much, if it is something other than the usual pocket money. I ask our AP to initial this to acknowledge what she’s received.]

2. Rescind the privilege of personal use of the car (not possible in some areas, more possible in others).

Having a car at your disposal is a privilege, and if you can’t or won’t afford to live by the rules of the car, then you can’t use the car. You can try this to see if it pushes your au pair to take responsibility.

Keep in mind that any action you take that your au pair disagrees with will generate resentment and possibly spawn other problems. And, even if she does agree, she may still resent having to pay.

Those are the breaks, I think. The alternative, of letting your au pair get away with both damaging the car and not paying her fair share, takes too much advantage of you. And, it sets up a situation where you as host parent(s) are seen as making rules that you don’t follow… which does little to generate respect and appreciation.

That’s my opinion– what’s yours? Let’s hear it parents (and au pairs)!


Elle Au PAir August 15, 2009 at 12:46 pm

I guess that the au pair must be responsible for her action. Although accidents are not called accicents for no reason. No onw wants to crash the car or to pay 500 dollars for fun! But I agree the au pair needs to take responsibility for it.

Megan August 15, 2009 at 5:12 pm

I think that if it was laid out in the rules when she first arrived, and she’s refusing to pay, and I would call in the area coordinator. Personally, I would bring to the table solutions I find acceptable- pay it all right now, pay me $100/ wk and pay me $50/ wk, and with the weekly payment plan, I would state that it would be deducted from their paycheck. They knew how it would be when they started, and I think it’s accommodating of the family to allow flexibility in finding a solution.

Anonymous August 16, 2009 at 1:55 pm

How can someone ” refuse to pay ” ?

Haley August 16, 2009 at 2:42 pm

We tell them up front that they will be responsible for the $250 deductible (the limit allowed by the agency). We also tell them that depending on the situation, we may very well break the match.
I’ve seen way too many cases where the au-pair is blase about having accidents- particularly from Eastern European countries, and Thailand. That’s part of why we avoid those countries. FWIW, I’ve seen the attitude MANY times in my years of being a hostmom that the AP thinks that “they’re rich, they can afford it”, and that it’s just part of having an au-pair. That’s not an acceptable attitude in my book!

Franzi August 16, 2009 at 4:17 pm

first off, i would make sure that after you have covered sensitive issues that involve payments/re-payments etc., you and the AP sign that page in the handbook with a date. after all, if she refuses to pay, how do you know she’s not pretending your talk about the deductible did never happen?

if she refuses to pay despite having had that understanding about the deductible, i would get the counselor involved and sort things out with her as mediator.

Anonymous August 16, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Our AP had an accident close before her departure and didn’t have the money or enough time to earn it. Really the point was not just “the money;” we were already set back much more than the $500 deductible. This was a life experience we wanted her to grow from. We spoke with her about the options for repayment and we were not comfortable with her “sending money back to us.” We also didn’t want her going home broke. Usually we give our AP a nice bonus at the end of a good year and we didn’t want to spoil that as well. Since she couldn’t actually pay for the deductible she had to work for it. She worked overtime and generally was in the doghouse much like one of our children might have been. (Think back to what your parents did when they busted you for doing something… Wake up early to pull weeds from the lawn with a fork ? LOL. We weren’t that bad.) We curbed the use of the car (which was painful for me to do during her last week.) We made it clear to her and our kids that if she was our child there wouldn’t be a “replacement car” for the one she totaled; but since this was the AP car required as part of our household we would be replacing it. The important thing we wanted was for her to take responsibility by working to a resolution with us and understand the magnitude of her actions (what if the kids had been with her?) She didn’t complain or begrudge us AT ALL; I’m not sure I would have been so mature at her age.

PA au pair mom August 17, 2009 at 9:58 am

Our AP had her first accident the 3rd week she was with our family. She ran into the side of the garage while trying to pull the car into it. The kids were in the car because she was bringing them home from school so technically she was “working”. We made sure she was alright, paid all the repairs and no longer required her to use the garage.

Back in June our AP was leaving to go to a friend’s house and ran our car into my mother’s car while backing out of the driveway. total damages to both cars was nearly $5000. She immediately called the LCC who reminded her that she only had to pay $500.

My husband talked to her two days later (he works out of town) about the deductible and how she needed to pay it. She still hasn’t paid it, nearly 3 months later.

She is leaving in 17 days and so we set her down again last night and told her that she must repay it before she leaves. We don’t want to punish her, but it’s an agreement/contract and she must uphold her end. As a result of her two accidents our insurance went up and will likely stay up for a few years.

We feel that as an adult she must be accountable and honor her end of the agreement.

She’s very upset with us and barely speaks at all but at least it’s only for a little over 2 more weeks.

Darthastewart August 17, 2009 at 11:00 am

Above- I’m Haley (my real name)

Anyways, what I would do in a case where you aren’t allowed to withhold the money is do this: Pay her in cash, get a signed receipt, and then have her pay me back.

I’m sure that the AP is unhappy at being required to pay for the damages. In her mind you likely “can afford it”. But she needs to pay for her obligations regardless.

Jill August 17, 2009 at 11:05 am

I am an LCC myself and luckily haven’t had this issue with any AP’s in my group. But in a situation like this, you should always contact the LCC to get them involved. If the “rules” are coming from someone who works for the agency then maybe the AP will react differently. Also, as an FYI, many AP’s pay a deposit when they come over to the US. You can always call the agency and see if you can make some arrangements to get reimbursed from that money if the AP is refusing to pay. Or you can “threaten” the AP with doing that.

TX Mom August 17, 2009 at 11:06 am

I’ve used the “payment plan” with a few AP’s for various large expenses (auto insurance deductible, laptop, airline ticket, etc.) which is basically deducting her weekly stipend for a period of time.
PA au pair mom, I would sit her down (with the LCC if necessary) and talk about options. If she can’t pay you back and you only have 2 weeks I think you should make her “work it off.” Personally, I would have forced a “payment plan” back in June and would have made her pay part of the deductible for the first accident, even if she was working. I think the AP has to take responsibility for her actions whether she is on duty or not. IMHO.

Anonymous August 17, 2009 at 11:40 am

Someone once suggested to me – a friend with an aupair – that that aupair post the deductible as a ” deposit ” up front . That way, the deductible was covered regardless.

Franzi August 17, 2009 at 3:06 pm

@anonymous, as AP i would have refused to pay the deductible upfront – call it deposit or whatever. making sure i have that much on my account as a basis, yes, but why would i give money to my hosts for something that did not happen yet (and in anyone’s mind will not happen)?

the thought of already having paid the deductible could invite reckless driving as there is no more “punishment” left that the host family could set other than rematch.

Anonymous August 17, 2009 at 5:03 pm

I have been told by my agency that ” separate contracts ” have no validity. So, if you and your aupair sign a page in a handbook that is different from or contradicts the agency contract, should it become an issue , the agency contract will hold up in court or arbitration.
This applies to financial matters as well as the more common problem of families offering to pay aupairs extra money for extra hours.
I think the most important issue here is what happens when it is too close to departure to work it off. The contract still holds since it is based on federal regulations.
I think that the option of asking the aupair to forfeit her deposit is the measure that most agencies will back you up on. Now, what happens if the other party was at fault and you receive the deductible back or the other insurance company pays the whole thing. How can the aupair recover that money ?

ma mom August 17, 2009 at 5:24 pm

I had one au pair that was a terrible driver. She backed one of our cars into the other in the driveway! luckily that was minor damage. She rear-ended another car while working, it was her fault and we took the money out of the weekly stipend, and while not thrilled, she agreed that it was the best idea. We also spread it over a number of weeks and kept a detailed record, that is critical. What I also uncovered is that AP’s may try to repair minor problems without telling us, (ie blown tire on a curb) so we make a note in our handbook that they should tell us about all incidents.

PA au pair mom August 17, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Just an update….we got our LCC involved and she wasn’t all that helpful. She reiterated that we are not allowed to withhold the AP’s stipend for ANY reason per the dept of State regulations.

She (AP) agreed to pay us 150 this week and 150 next week. We agreed. At least it’s better than nothing and she had to assume some “responsibility”.

PA Mom August 18, 2009 at 8:40 am

It is better than nothing and likely a significant portion of what she had to work with. Good for you for having her take some responsibility and even better for being flexible about the end result. Sounds like she’s not a good driver and you and she are both fortunate that nothing more serious (medical) happened to you or her. As a note there are a lot of good APs – seems like perhaps this was not the right one – and the deposit idea is a bit creepy if you ask me. Sorry but I can think of a few APs who should have had a deposit the other way around with their HFs. That increase with the min. wage seems to be “forgotten” with a lot of families and lots of families go over their hours or stay out over night – come on you know who you are – that’s really against the rules but you don’t see a lot of compensation on that one for the AP.

PA au pair mom August 18, 2009 at 10:31 am

PA mom:

question for you: what is the consequence for host families that do not pay the au pair the legal stipend? We received about 15 different communications, email, mail, phone calls, about the stipend increase. never once did we think of not increasing to the new amount.

But your post got me thinking, are there repercussions for families that do not pay the correct amount, who withhold pay, who mistreat au pairs? Would an agency actually “remove” a family from the program?

I think that’s horrible to treat the young ladies (or gentlemen) that way. I am surprised to hear there are families that do so.

CV August 18, 2009 at 1:37 pm

There are consequences for families who break the rules– they get ‘kicked out’ of the program and usually do not receive back the pro-rated portion of their agency fee (that would cover the rest of their au pair year). In my old town, there was a family that broke all the rules and was not only ‘kicked out’ of my agency, but was blacklisted (if you will) by the other two agencies that covered our town– the LCCs knew each other, and our Lcc didn’t want the other two to have to deal with the same problem family. In my current town, one family was ‘dropped’ from the program, but then got another AP through a different agency. So the solution is not always permanent.

My sense (but LCCs can correct me on this) is that it is hard to pressure families to do the right thing, if they are doing the wrong thing on purpose. Sometimes you break the rules b/c you didn’t know them … so all you need is a call from your LCC and you’re back on the right path. However, there are host families who lie, who dock pay without fair reason, who move their boxes of crap into the AP room and “store” them there, and on and on. I think that many girls have a hard time knowhing what to do, since they don’t have a lot of leverage themselves. And, sometimes they (and the host family, and/or the LCC) might think that they should accommodate a few lapses (“hey, you can live with a few boxes in your room”) but one thing leads to another.

The best defense is when Agencies do a careful job screening families. (Still, some families lie, or create a ‘fake’ AP bedroom and then make her sleep in the kids playroom while Grandma visits for 3 months, etc.) Assuming that families are bad liars, not all LCCs know what to look for, or maintain really high standards. However, most LCCs do (imho) b/c having a bad family is really really bad, and a problem for all concerned. I think a bad family is worse than a bad AP….

About the stipend, many people just needed to be reminded. Also, folks might resent or ‘forget’ the increase (since it kindof smarts, esp if you are on a budget). But the agencies needed to (and did) make a big communications push about it so that no family could say they didn’t know.

Anonymous August 18, 2009 at 11:30 am

One of my APs has repeatedly used paid services on the cell phone that she was told not to use, like signing up for ring tones and what not. We showed her the bill and asked her not to do it and that we will let it go this time, and then saw same charges on the next month bill. This was repeated for 5 months, at the end, in combination with everything else that was going wrong with that AP, we docked her last check for the amount of all extra cell charges she racked up in 5 months. It wasn’t much in total, under $40, but we were pissed by then. We should’ve docked her $100 more for something else she owned us, but decided to let that go. With another one of our APs, we fronted her money for her vacation and set up a repayment schedule where she would pay it back over 1.5 months by us docking 1/6 of the total loan from her weekly checks. We agreed to it verbally and then we sent her an email with our agreed arrangement showing her what she owes us, and how it will be repaid. She has responded to an email saying that she agrees. We also let our LCC know that we lent AP vacation money and that she agreed to repay it.

TX Mom August 18, 2009 at 1:29 pm

PA au pair mom, I have spoken with a LCC who was trying to remove a family from the program for abusing the AP (60 hour weeks, etc.) Sounded like a bad situation where the AP was scared to tell the LCC and then the HF treated her worse when she did. It sounded like it may be difficult to remove a bad family – like firing an employee from a large corporation. Lots of documentation, repeated offenses, etc. I think the “bad HF’s” are less prevalent than the “bad AP’s” who are put into rematch just by looking around at my cluster for a few years. Let’s face it, there are cheaper ways to hire foreign child care if you don’t care about laws.

Anonymous August 21, 2009 at 1:01 pm

I think that if a family got kicked out of a program many of us would not know about it. An agency might just not take them back at year end and it is unlikely that the family would admit to that. They would probably just change agencies or opt for another form of childcare and say they were disppointed by the agency.
I doubt very much that any family would advertise the fact that they were dropped from a program. I also cannot really think that LCCs would speak frankly about that to other families and aupairs. They shouldn’t, anyway.
I think that if an LCC and/or an agency got after a family ,
the aupair would know and word would get around pretty fast that the rules have to be followed.

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