Honest Truth, how many weeks are over 45 hrs? (Poll)

by cv harquail on February 23, 2010

The controversy continues!

There’s now some concern over just how widespread is the practice of having your au pair work more than 45 hours a week.

Let’s try to put some numbers in this — I’d love to get an empirical assessment of this practice…

Problem is that an online poll will NOT give us a SCIENTIFIC count… it will only tell us something about the small group of host parents who will actually take the poll on this blog.

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Consider that:

  • Not everyone who has an au pair reads AuPairMom, so it may be that there is higher (or lower) percentage of rule-breakers in the host parent population than among AuPairMom readers.
  • And, not everyone who reads AuPairMom likes to take the polls — posts usually get 10 to 20 times the pages views than the # of voters in a poll — so a poll is FAR from exact.

Let’s do it anyway though, just to get some kind of picture. And please, if you’re a reader who is a Host Parent, vote in the poll.

Au Pairs, please do *not* vote in this poll. You’ll get your own as as soon as I can put one up.

How often does your Au Pair work over 45 hrs a week?

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How many hours extra does your au pair work, when she works 'overtime'?

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Hannah February 23, 2010 at 9:48 am

I was an au pair in Switzerland last year, for a family with three children under 4 working from 7.00 am to 6.00 pm Monday to Friday. This adds up to 55 hour weeks and my time there was unbearable, I was constantly exhausted, stressed and the situation resulted in me leaving. Anyone who gets their au pair to work more than the maximum hours regularly is creating an au pair who is worse at her job and may resent the family.

Anonymous February 23, 2010 at 10:13 am

Your host family were breaking the rules to an even greater extent than if you’d been working the same hours in America – European au pairs are only allowed to work a maximum of 30 hours a week.

aria February 23, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Buzzer, I’m 95% sure this is incorrect. Each country is different, AND you have to remember that working with an agency isn’t required in Europe like it is in the States, so if you’re working independently, you don’t have the same limits, etc.


aria February 23, 2010 at 7:48 pm

AND, just as an aside… does anyone know of a country that has a higher working limit for au pairs than the States? Because on the link I just posted, the US tops it. So glad I’m not an au pair in the States!!! :)

HRHM February 24, 2010 at 8:30 am

We also pay better than the other countries as far as I can tell. I saw a web-site for APs in Germany and although they only work 30 hours, they get 300 euros per MONTH. My incoming AP was in London last year and worked side jobs because she couldn’t survive on the stipend there. (very expensive city) Not sure how the the pay is in other places, but I’d be interested to hear.

Anonymous February 23, 2010 at 8:00 pm
Anonymous2 February 23, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Aria –
The link you have posted does show most countries (which are not just European) with a maximum of 30 hours a week unless you are Au Pair Plus. Switzerland states 30-35 hours a week. So…I’d say that Anonymous, while not 100% correct, is pretty darn close. If you have an English link for this site, you might want to post as not everyone will understand the information in French.
Thanks :-)

Anonymous February 23, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Noted- my mistake! Sorry about my bad information.

anonym au pair February 24, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I was an au pair in Norway and was legally only allowed to work 30 hours per week. I did not go through an agency, but I was living there on an au pair visa and rules still existed. I was paid 1000 Norwegian Kroners per week (legally the minimum they could pay me) which is about $170.

I was never asked to work more than the 30 hours/week since the kids were in school (even the 1 year old), but if I had been asked to work more hours than “allowed” and was compensated for it fairly, I wouldn’t have minded.

CV February 23, 2010 at 10:31 am

Anonymous (above) — I’ve never heard that there is a specific work-hours limit in Europe, although it makes sense that there would be… If you can direct me to a place online where folks could get more information, we’d love that.
Also, I’m trying to find the work week limitations for au pairs in Canada, under Canada’s Live-In Caregiver program. Anyone with the deets, let us know! cv

Calif Mom February 23, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Another little caveat: adding to the un-scientific-ness of the poll, it doesn’t have a neat slot for those who have school vacation challenges.

au pair February 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm

I am an au pair for older, school aged children. I work 6-9 most mornings, then 3-maybe 9 most nights. This is reasonable, I have plenty of time off during the day, and most weekends, however, I can see how it could be easy for au pairs to work over time, when the hours are not ‘clear cut’. Sometimes I feel like I am working when I am not, either I feel that it would be rude to go to my room or that I am not sure whether or not I am working.. so my point is that some parents may use their au pair, dishes, chores, helping with the kids etc, in a way that benefits them, and the au pair is not getting free time, but is still not officially ‘working’ time.

OBMom February 23, 2010 at 3:08 pm

I’m not sure how to vote … she never works >45 hrs a week during the school year (Sept-June), but then works ~50 hrs a week during the summer. Since the time during the school year is more like 35 hrs I feel this is balanced and fair. She almost never has to work on weekends … perhaps 1 every 1-2 months.

VA MOM February 24, 2010 at 11:12 am

OBMom, I agree with you. But decided voting on the least number of hours worked fine for voting purposes. My au pair never works 45 hours/week during the school year and the fact that I have to constantly write out things for her to do to fill the time while my kids are in school – it doesn’t get done if I don’t verbally tell her or write it down weekly. A small frustration I have. The hours that she doesn’t do anything work related during the school year is rarely made up as well. So in the summer time, when she is with the kids all day, I try hard to make sure she doesn’t go over the 45 hours/week but sometimes it is necessary and I don’t feel bad b/c of her easy workload when the kids are in school. I let them know that I will accomodate them, but they have to accomodate me and my husband’s schedules as well. For example, sometimes she wants to get a head start on a weekend trip, so we go out of way to be home on Fridays so that she has this option.

AP in MA February 23, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I work almost 50 hours every week.

Should be working February 23, 2010 at 8:47 pm

I find that scandalous, AP in MA. I would be curious to know whether au pairs feel pressured to do this, or appreciate the extra pay, or feel like they can’t refuse.

Anon Pacific NW AP February 24, 2010 at 2:00 am

I do about the same as AP in MA, i definitely don’t feel pressured or anything and the extra money really comes in handy when i’m planning a trip or big weekend or as i’ve just discovered will probably have to pay income taxes. When i started doing longer weeks it was planned that i’d work a 9 day fortnight instead of a 10 day but then it was just easier for me and my HP’s for me to just get paid overtime rather than them having to take turns working from home. I should mention that i look after babies so i normally have an hour or two down time each day during their naps depending on how many chores i have to get done. I don’t think i’d be doing so great with working 50 hour weeks if i had school age kids and was with them from breakfast to bed every day.

Sara Duke February 24, 2010 at 8:38 am

For the few years that I had an au pair working full-time, meaning 45 hours per week (7:30-4:15 or 4:30 – 5 days a week), I did not have her do many chores, because I wanted her to be with the kids. She did not have to clean the house (I did that when the kids were in bed), she did have to feed them and wash up their dishes, and do one or two loads of laundry a week (sometimes I started them, sometimes I folded it). She had friends who were given tons of chores, but I wanted her to be there for my kids, both of whom were in intensive therapy (my son had had bacterial menigitis shortly after he was born and 4 months before she arrived). I didn’t expect her to clean their room or pick up all the toys. I did expect that she would not spend time on the computer all day (and I could tell when she did, because my son dismembered the study when he got old enough).

I encouraged that AP to have friends over, both for her sanity, but also so my kids had age-appropriate play time. The result? I had 2 happy kids, but also my AP had a clear expectation of her free time.

AnonHM-Europe February 24, 2010 at 5:35 am

We have the same discussions in my home-country with 30 hours maximum work. The point is: Please define work. Our APs now work usually between 20 and 25 hours with the kids and household chores during the week – extra hours are requested in the evenings when I have to go to school, kindergarden or (very rarely) go out with my husband. Then I leave the house at 8 p.m. – when the kids sleep already. Our APs then chat with there friends at home, watch TV, read or sleep themselves. My kids never woke up (not once in the last 6 years) while we were not at home – it’s just a matter of not leaving them home by themselves (I could bring the baby-phone to the neighbors who would be in our house within minutes). So I wouldn’t call that extra work even though I know that the APs often think different. (Because of the enormous responsibility they have to take during this time.) Solution: If they want this time to be taken as working-time, they are most welcome to do some ironing, cleaning during this time. Time the AP spends with taking care about her own chores are no work.
Time the AP spends on the week-ends are on a voluntary basis and also free time, still I expect them to help: When we go swimming/visit a fun-park/zoo etc. she is supposed to stay with us and not use us as cheap transportation system. On the other hand I pay entrence fees. They are supposed to help carrying bags, cleaning hands and noses of the kids, join them going to the restrooms, run after them in a dangerous situation…. Girls who won’t cope with this won’t join us the next time.

HRHM February 24, 2010 at 8:42 am

Our agencies define any time they are responsible for the children as work hours. Think about it from their perspective. If your boss told you “You have to stay here, just in case the client needs you, but you can surf the internet or watch TV – oh and by the way, these are considered workk hours” you’d be outraged. If you’re not free to come and go as you please, the hours count. In the US, our APs don’t do cleaning and other household stuff unless it is stricly kid related. I encourage our AP (require actually) to use nap time to do kid laudry, clean up cooking/feeding messes from her & the kids, etc. But if she watches them in the evening after they are asleep, even if there’s nothing else to do, we count the hours.

Jane February 24, 2010 at 12:29 pm

We have the ability to keep a consistent schedule, and as a result our au pair works exactly 42 hours a week, spread evenly across 5 work days. Weekends are free, with the note that we would like one date night on a Saturday once a month. These date nights rarely exceed 3 hours and they take place while the kids are sleeping. During these date nights, our au pair has friends over and they cook, watch movies, and generally enjoy having the house to themselves without us old host parents lurking about. If our date somehow goes over 3 hours, we do not count these as working hours any more than we count public holidays against our au pair’s vacation time. It’s a give and take I think.

AP in Germany February 27, 2010 at 9:52 am

I don’t think that the way you are discussing your au pairs reflects any level of respect. If you were to get a babysitter for the evening, you wouldn’t expect them to clean in order to get paid. Your Au Pair is essentially on call, and working that whole time, whether or not your kids are awake, that is work time.

As far as the outings go, I help with my host family all the time when we go out. I’m never required to go with them, and they don’t require me to help when I’m there, but I respect my host family and I really like spending time with them, and I like helping. If you don’t respect your Au Pair, then I feel like you are going to run into problems with the way they treat you and your family.

Darthastewart February 28, 2010 at 8:29 am

An AP isn’t a babysitter. Part of the contract states that they’re responsible for child things like Laundry and rooms, and cleaning up after herself during the day.

I think it’s great that you help out with stuff when out with the HF, but I can honestly tell you that many of my AP’s have gone out with us, and it has taken a LOOOOOONG time to train them/get them to the point where they offer to do anything while we’re out. In some cases it could be something as simple as offering to help carry the food (In a Fast food restaurant). Believe it or not, many of the AP’s I’ve seen never even offer to do that. I have tried to treat all of my au-pairs well, and to not try to expect too much. But some extra help when we’re out (an extra adult in attendance, not another child…) is sincerely appreciated, and makes me want to continue taking the AP with us.

Anonymous February 28, 2010 at 11:55 am

I don’t think that’s what AP in Germany meant. AnonHM-Europe said “So I wouldn’t call that extra work [babysitting while the kids are asleep] even though I know that the APs often think different. Solution: If they want this time to be taken as working-time, they are most welcome to do some ironing, cleaning during this time” That was why the AP was making the point that if you hired a babysitter, of course you would pay them for being there for the kids – you wouldn’t tell them to do chores if they want to be paid!

To the original host mom – I’m sorry, but I think it’s ridiculous to not count time when the kids are asleep as working hours. If they can’t go out and are in charge of your kids, then they’re working.

Sara Duke February 28, 2010 at 6:02 pm

I agree. If your AP is the adult-in-charge, the one responsible for dealing with any emergency or crisis that might arise, then she’s working. If she’s not free to leave the house and run errands because the kids are in bed and asleep, then she’s working. If you want her to achieve certain things while the kids are napping, that’s fine – she’s working. (Be aware, the kids won’t always be napping – my son stopped at 2, no matter how my AP tried, he had too many questions that needed answering.)

When we go out to eat in the evenings, we expect the kid’s dinner dishes to be done and the kitchen to be tidy, but we don’t expect that the AP will have spend the entire time doing chores. It depends on the AP – most have friends over and wait for us to get home to go clubbing.

Occasionally, an AP will ask if it’s okay to go to bed once she’s certain the kids are asleep and DD is hooked up to her feeding pump. It’s fine with me – she can hear DD whose room is right above her and my son knows where to find her. But even if she’s asleep – if the smoke detectors go off – she’s in charge and therefore working.

Darthastewart February 28, 2010 at 7:15 pm

agree- if you are in charge of the kids, you are working. Even if everyone is asleep.

NannyKelly February 24, 2010 at 7:15 am

the EU is at 30 hours, I think Switzerland is 30-35. I was an au pair in both Switzerland and the EU (France). In Switzerland, I left the family I was working for because I worked nearly 60 hours a week, with little pay, no food and wasn’t allowed out of the house. In france I worked around 30 hours a week, but the family wasn’t much better.

CA Mom of Twins February 24, 2010 at 1:07 pm

I am lucky because my au pair really became part of our family. The kids love her and she seems to enjoy spending time with us and the kids. Even when she’s “off” she comes and draw or play, or join us on weekends to kid related events. I’ve said many times she shouldn’t feel obligated, but she said she wanted to. Technically, I guess that would be counted as working hours? She does have a car and can go out, so I don’t feel terrible that she chooses to be around.

Dorsi February 24, 2010 at 11:58 pm

I don’t think that spending time on weekends with the family counts as “duty hours.” You are not on duty because you are with the kids, you are on duty because you are solely responsible for their care.

This is why we Google calendar (also, we have a highly variable schedule). I may put in that you are working Sat 7a-2p. At 2:30p I say that we are going to go to Target to run errands (or the zoo, or whatever). If the AP chooses to come with us, that certainly in not part of her 45 hours/week.

Last week, my mother was in town. AP was scheduled to work 8a-6p. Grandma wanted to go out to the mall and lunch with AP and my son. It still counted as hours because AP was responsible for feeding, caring, changing the baby, etc. It was not an optional excursion — and therefore, it was work.

Make it clear what is work and what isn’t (use a calendar, a weekly planner or put it in your rule book) and you shouldn’t have to worry about this.

CaliHostMom February 24, 2010 at 1:26 pm

4th post attempt — this time without using greater than and less than symbols!

I did not take the poll because over 10 years of having au pairs, situations varied so much. When the kids were under 5, there were more weeks with 45+ hours (with extra pay, perks, ‘comp time’ off and/or other mutually agreeable considerations such as a 3-day weekend here or there). When the kids were older, there were fewer 45 hour weeks and lots of less than 40 hour weeks.

I always felt that counting nap times and family meal times as “duty hours” was the letter of the agency law so I did it, but quite frankly, when my APs were Internet chatting and scrapbooking and otherwise whiling away the nap hours, I never felt bad for having them work a 10 hour day. Going for a jog with a baby in a baby jogger? That’s not only light duty, it’s getting paid to exercise. Granted, my kids never had any special needs and there were only 2 of them.

Certainly I have heard of and definitely believe the stories of APs I have known in other families around here who were in virtual indentured servitude working 50 and 60 hour weeks with more than 2 kids while HPs traveled, worked, or were otherwise out of the home. I’ve always felt bad for them and at a loss for how to help them since so many of them were too fearful or passive to challenge their HPs or even tell the LCC.

As for me, I never felt bad about the odd weeks with 50 or more hours because I felt I did it with the AP agreeing to acceptable terms and fair working conditions. It always REALLY bothered me to have a ‘clock-watcher’ AP who kept a diary of the minutes they worked. I didn’t have the time or energy to counter-attack with my own time log of their phone calls, texts, TV watching and whatnot while on the clock. Instead I just held on to annoyance and was less likely to offer the begged-for Friday off. Over the years, there were very few run-ins. I do remember a few. One time, my AP was set to start duty at 8:30 a.m. At 8:31, she arrived downstairs in pajamas and proceeded to fix herself a leisurely breakfast while the kids played nearby with me having one eye on them. When she later complained that I needed her to stay until 6:45 instead of 6:30, some tense words were exchanged. This problem is definitely trickier with moms who work from home (like me, at that time) or moms who stay at home. I don’t like the 45-hour rule that the agencies impose. It is too rigid. There should be some more flexibility. I suppose they do it to help prevent the HPs who would take a mile if given an inch.

Anonymous2 February 24, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Hi CaliHostMom – The 45 hour rule is actually a U.S. State Department regulation for the au pair program. Individual agencies do not set the hour regulations.

anon21 February 25, 2010 at 7:28 am

These are US Laws and you’re braking them. Do you think a jog with a baby sounds like time off to you?

MD_HOST MOM March 1, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I was under the impression that the 45 hours per week is the State Department regs, not the agency regulations. In fact I am pretty sure it is. My husband and I both work over 40 hours per week, but he leaves for work at 530, while I leave at 745. Most of the time this works out with only 9 hours per day but there are times when his work gets very busy that we need our au pair to work a few hours (usually no more then 3) extra in a week. I covered this with my au pair before she even arrived with us. We stressed flexibility and she very rarely works weekends. Both of our au pairs are glad for the extra money and don’t have a problem with it.

massaupairmom February 24, 2010 at 6:04 pm

So far, we’ve only asked our au pair to work extra time for emergencies – trips to the er, labor, and the like. On those rare ocassions, I have not paid her because 1) they are time limited, and 2) I consider pitching in under those circumstances to be part of family life. I am fortunate that I work for myself, do not have much of a commute, and can basically make my own hours. I can see how, if I were working for someone else and commuting into the city, I might be making more frantic, apologetic calls to my au pair, and extra pay.

westcost mom February 26, 2010 at 11:58 am

What about if you have two au pairs because you need so many hours of care because of your crazy work schedule, and your au pairs wants to take long week end trips while the other covers childcare, should we allow them to do this and work 12 hour days for the time where they cover for the second au pair?
Anyone experience with time accounts? Work a few hours more this week and less next wee? Anyone suggestions?

Sara Duke February 26, 2010 at 2:12 pm

When my kids were little, I always asked a family member to come stay with me to help out. I also do this every time my daughter is hospitalized for a serious condition (excludes all the times she tanks from stomach flu because she usually goes home in 1-3 days). My parents have come out and assisted, my sister has taken vacation time to help, and when my husband burst his appendix, his sister came for a few days. On other occasions, I have hired a local college student – which costs me about twice as much as an AP – because she wants enough hours to make it worth her while. Now, that my daughter is healthy enough that I actually have vacation time to my credit, I take time off when my AP is on holiday and get some kid time. While I absolutely love my career and the work I do, I’m a better person if I’m not a Stakhanovite all the time. There are many solutions other than making an AP work more!

Should be working February 26, 2010 at 2:16 pm

::scurrying to look up “Stakhanovite”:::

HRHM February 26, 2010 at 3:37 pm

How does one get 2 APs? This website is the first place I ever even heard of this and I’m quite curious. Do they each have there own room? Do you pay 2x everything (fees, stipend, tuition)? How do you work out who works when? Fascinating!

Should be working February 26, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Yes, I also want to know more about this, just how it all works!

Darthastewart February 28, 2010 at 8:34 am

Yep. 2 Au-Pairs is 2X everything. Although, in my experience, you may get almost 2X the hours… But They don’t like the evening hours, so I got griping over that. And getting chores done around the house was sometimes really annoying. I don’t feel like I received anywhere NEAR 2X service. I did get 2X the aggravation! (I did it for 6 months, at two different points)

JJ February 26, 2010 at 4:35 pm

We keep very strict track of our au pair’s hours. She works 45 hours a week. My kids nap 2-3 hours a day and she has some chores to do during those hours, but gets a lot of time to kick back. That said, she still has to be in the house, so those count as working hours.

Occasionally we ask her to babysit extra hours. We pay her $10 an hour when she does. This happens rarely – maybe once every 3-4 months. She always has the option and if she doesn’t want to do it or can’t, we get someone else.

AP in England April 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Sara Duke: You sound like an awesome mom and host mom!!

I au pair for 2 children aged 8 & 11. I make sure they get up in the morning (at 7am) and we have breakfast together, then I drop them off at school and come home to clean and tidy…then to the farm shop to get bits for dinner then I have to pick up the children and care for them till bedtime and their mom comes home around 9pm. So I generally work 70hrs/ week. I have weekends to myself. I wouldnt have to work so much if the family wasnt so messy and untidy. I spend more time putting things away then anything else. I wash the floors every day as everyone walks through with shoes on. I do get paid more then most au pairs £160/week but sometimes the stress and the feeling like I am a slave is just not worth it. I have taught the children to do things for themselves and to tidy up, but it’s hard as the mother does not teach or support me. I can not wait till I get home in 79 more days.

DE Papai April 8, 2011 at 9:17 am

We are very strict in our house with the 45 hour rule. It is *very* tempting to ask our AP to babysit, etc., but we have to resist. We will use a regular babysitter when we need one, or arrange our AP’s schedule to allow us an evening out. Our AP schedule is generally 8-6 with a one hour break at noon. There is an occasional trade of time, for instance when she needed to be driven to take her driver’s exam, we traded two hours of our time, for two hours of babysitting (after the kids were asleep, of course). Sometime she plays with the children when she’s bored and we’re making dinner or trying to get something done, but we always make it clear that she does not have to.

Asking an AP to work more than that is just wrong, and in the US, illegal. By doing that, you start to build up bad feelings so that when the AP finally does leave, she doesn’t even look back. AP’s work hard, especially those with younger children, and overworking them is unethical.

@AP in England: You really should have a talk with your hosts. You are not a slave, a servant or a maid. If they need maid service, they need to hire a maid. One suggestion, if you are able, is to engage your children in helping to clean up. It will help their self-esteem and will help you get some additional things done. 70 hours a week is inhumane and you should speak up.

CaliHostMom April 8, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I always abide by the 45 hours. Like others, *if* I need extra time, I either hire a babysitter or I give our AP the option (not the requirement) to take the extra hours with extra pay. I hate to hear of families taking advantage of APs, especially those who would clean a floor every day.

I’m interested in how AP in England gets to 70 hrs…an hour daily to get the kids ready for school in the morning is 5 hours. Then the afternoons and evenings from say 3 to 9 each day…that makes another 30 hours. Add in a couple hours of daily tidying and shopping daily and you get 10 more hours. So I get 45. Unless you a literally not taking a break at all from 7 am to 9 pm, which would make you really quite an unusual AP, you would not be getting to 70 hours. I would think the quiet hours between 8 and 3, when you can do a bit of tidying, check your e-mail, watch some television, read a book, run to the store, make a salad, hoover a rug…all without much time pressure…doesn’t sound so bad to me. Honestly, I don’t want to sound mean, but I’d trade places with you. Unless they have a 10,000 sq ft mansion, how are you spending from 8-3 or 9-2 daily cleaning the place? It must be as clean as an operating room. Will people that messy even notice if you switch the floor cleaning from daily to once weekly?

For our APs, the 45 hours include the midday and evening meals. I think that’s pretty generous of me. So it bothers me when I get shortchanged at the fringes or when the AP really doesn’t put in much effort for a day. If only I could get paid to grocery shop in slow motion. If only I could get paid to fix and eat my own dinner. Someday, when our APs become mothers, and they try to wring maximum output out of every second of their days, and don’t dream of watching TV without also folding laundry or opening mail, then they will maybe look back at their AP days when they took hours to fold a single basket of laundry and think fondly of how hard they didn’t work.

It would be such a refreshing change to ever get an AP who had ambition and drive and who would actually derive a sense of joy from getting things done swiftly and in finding things that could be made better. Only once in 10 years, have I had an AP recognize that the linen closet was hopelessly disorganized and take the initiative to set it straight without a word from me. The others, sadly, are content to just stuff the towels and sheets in any open spot. Someday they will have their own linen closets. Until then, we HMs have to find ways to appreciate that at least we have help.

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