Scheduling Your Au Pair: The Minimum Length of a Work Shift

by cv harquail on July 11, 2014

The US State Department sets firm, legal parameters for scheduling an Au Pair.  But the US State Department rules, and the contractual stipulations of each Au Pair Agency, form only the required, minimum guidelines for scheduling an Au Pair.

35334949_954c16af4d_zWithin this rough outline, host parents and au pairs need to negotiate what is sensible, fair, effective for the children, and effective for the rest of the family (Au Pair included).

We know that the regulations stipulate:

  • No more than 45 hours per week on duty
  • No more than 10 hours per day on duty
  • A required full day off each week
  • A required half-day off each week
  • One full weekend off per month

Some agencies (such as CCAP) also require that the full day and half-day off are consecutive. Other agencies do not have this additional requirement.

This basic framework leaves a lot of room for interpretation about how to schedule your Au Pair.    

Here on AuPair mom we’ve had conversations about:

Perhaps the one specific thing we haven’t addressed is whether there should be a minimum amount of time that an au pair is scheduled to be on duty.  

As ClairAuPair writes:

I’m wondering if there are also guidelines for a minimum shift time.
I am expected to be home between 8-8:30pm every Tuesday night while there is a gap and both parents are not home. They say this only counts as half an hour, but that seems unrealistic as it means I can’t really do anything that whole evening as far as things like dinner with friends or a movie is concerned.
Is there a minimum shift guideline of 1 hour or 2 hours or something?

2675323741_b6ce302990_zI sympathize with ClairAuPair’s  concern–

When I wrote that au pair breaks should be ‘meaningful’,  I aimed to address the larger challenge of balancing a schedule so that an au pair can have an independent full life while simultaneously making sure that we host parents get the childcare coverage we need.

You’d think that parents who are aware of the need to give au pairs meaningful chunks of time to be off-duty would also be aware not to take advantage of an au pair’s free time by tossing in a required half-hour that makes it impossible to have a full night off.

In ClairAuPair’s specific case, we might be tempted to avoid the bigger picture questions by asking “Just how hard is it to be on duty until 8:30 one weeknight a week?” and suggesting that her host parents schedule her for an entire hour to make it worthwhile (and for that matter, to cover for any imprecision in the times they depart or arrive back home).

Instead of that, let’s talk about whether we ought to consider:

A Minimum On Duty Shift?


Do any of the Au Pair Agencies have a specific scheduling rule that addresses the minimum ‘on duty’ shift?

Do any host parents follow your own rules about a minimum ‘on duty’ shift?


Image: Iced Tea Break, AttributionNoncommercial by Wooliedales,  Iced Tea at Georgia’s, AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike by Ed Yourdon


See also:

Start By Following the Rules: Au Pair Asks About Hours, Holidays and Discipline
Scheduling Your Au Pair: Naptime, Mealtime and Meaningful Breaks
Scheduling Your Au Pair: When does “On Duty” start and stop?
On Duty or Off Duty: There is no third choice. Or is there?
Au Pair Management Tip: Schedule Transition Time
Scheduling Your Au Pair: The Half Day
Overnight hours: Should we be able to schedule Au Pairs to work overnight?
Is it fair to schedule an Au Pair for Late Night baby feedings?
The Au Pair Scheduling Constraint That Might Surprise You


Taking a Computer Lunch July 11, 2014 at 9:28 am

It’s hard to know how to reply to the OP without knowing her entire Thursday schedule, and whether her HF is scheduling her for a full 45-hour week in which this half hour is part. Are the HK already in bed? Is she putting them to bed? or are they up past 8:30? Are there 6 other nights in the week in which she may go out or are there other, longer evening shifts?

There are times when either DH or I are single parents while the other travels for work when we need exactly this type of coverage. The Camel cannot, under any circumstances, be left alone in our house. She has no self-help skills, and cannot escape from her hospital bed at night in the event of a fire. There always has to be “an adult in charge” in the house. The OP’s HF seems to recognize the same need. We occasionally do a “short” evening schedule, not to keep an AP under 45 hours, but to provide coverage and to give the AP a short break from being “the adult in charge” in which to Skype, read email, shower, go for a short walk, or take a power nap.

To me, the OP seems a bit whiny about the one evening a week in which her HF needs coverage the conflicts with the ability to hang out with friends. I understand that in the summer few APs are likely to have course homework, but a better attitude about the half-hour shift is that it’s a good night to: catch up on sleep, clean her room, do homework, bond with the HK, meet her friends for ice cream, go for a walk before her 1/2 hour shift.

The bottom line is that this is a known 1/2 hours that her family needs coverage. If all she can see is the “can’ts” because of it, then loses the positive attitude of what she can do.

hOstCDmom July 11, 2014 at 9:48 am

I agree that the OP’s specific issue/complaint is hard to evaluate absent the full schedule picture. As TACL notes, if the AP is otherwise off duty the other 6 evenings a week, then this is not a sympathetic complaint, and TACL’s suggestions on how to view Tuesday evenings is spot on (get sleep, watch a movie, read a book, wash your hair, paint your toenails, Skype with your family (time zone permitting) etc.). If, however, she is on until 8 or 9pm M-F, + some weekend evenings, and then Tuesday would be her one evening “off” but for this 1/2 hour, then that seems an entirely different situation.

Returning HM July 11, 2014 at 9:46 am

If OP is working 9.5 hours from, say, 9-6:30pm, and then is on again from 8-8:30pm the same night, I have way more sympathy for her concern and do think that a hard schedule. But as TACL said, HFs need help when they need help, and presumably this is one night per week since you labeled it a “Tuesday” thing, and hopefully you don’t find in your AP year that Tuesday is SUCH an important night out that it’s hard to miss it every week. Hopefully there are enough APs also off to go to the movies or dinner with on Mondays and Wednesdays and Thursdays, not to mention the weekends. If there were a particular Tues night that you really wanted to do something special, then maybe you and your HF could work something out for that particular week.

To the larger question about minimum hours, our AP works for 10 minutes many mornings – 7:10-7:20am – while he drives one child to school in one direction, and I drive the other child in the other direction. If he were to whine about having to be up early for “only” ten minutes, I would happily have him start at 6:30am, at which point he could pack the children’s lunches instead of me, and then he could be on from 7:20-8:30am too, while he took care of the breakfast dishes and did meal prep for their afternoon and evening meals, again, instead of me doing this before I leave for work. Fortunately, he has never complained about his ten minute stint, so he gets to sleep a little later and go straight to the gym when he is done with his 10 minute drive.

HFs need help when they need help. We often need help from 7:30-8:20pm, if DH isn’t home to help and I need to go pick up the swim team carpool, but my little guy is asleep at 7:30 so needs someone home with him. Again, if AP were to complain about this, when I would schedule him for a longer period – from 6:20-9pm, for example, and he could do shower and bedtime for the little one instead of my doing it and then have a meal ready for my daughter when I bring her home from practice (instead of just doing what he wants – as long as it’s at home – for the 50 minutes in question). If the OP’s HF is anything like us, we are scheduling our APs to work ONLY when we really need the help – which may be for 10 minutes or may be for 30 minutes – and not stretching out the hours to be fuller just because we *can*.

WestMom July 11, 2014 at 1:04 pm

I am curious RHM- Do you schedule as you mentioned in your post: 7:20-8:30? And do you count that as 1.5hrs or as 1h10min? It never occurred to me to schedule start/end times that did not round up.

Returning HM July 11, 2014 at 3:44 pm

I schedule on at 7:10 and off when AP drops (about 7:20) so Ap knows he can go to the gym straight from dropping. It would make no sense for me to make him stay on to round out the hour because then he would feel he needs to come home and be “on.” We use only about 25-30 hrs per week and usually 5 hrs/day so these short stints haven’t been a problem. Again, if an AP complained about getting up for “just” 10 min, I’d make the shift 2 hours. I doubt anyone would want that!

Returning HM July 11, 2014 at 3:47 pm

The larger message being: I only schedule for when I need Ap. I don’t round up gratuitously on the schedule but on the odd week (maybe 1-2 a year) when we are close to 45 hours and I actually have to count hours, I count the 10 min morning as an hour.

Should be working July 11, 2014 at 10:34 am

I have felt weird about scheduling APs now and then to only drive kids to school, about 40 min round trip. What I did was ask them if they’d rather have, as suggested above, a longer shift that starts earlier or the short driving shift. If the AP can see the big picture and it’s a fair picture, as all have said already, then she shouldn’t complain about a short help-out shift. And it’s not so bad to go meet friends at 9pm, there are 9:30pm movies.

American AP in Germany July 11, 2014 at 11:59 am

To me it sounds like what the OP really wants is this 30-minute period to count for more than 30 minutes towards her weekly 45, and not that she wants a longer working shift. Perhaps in theory she wants the longer shift so it will count more, but the reality is that she is only need for that half hour.

If this were every night, I would understand. I don’t think necessarily think there should be a minimum shift requirement (as in, it counts as an hour even if AP works only 30 minutes), unless the schedule is so zany that it effectively prevents her from doing anything during the week.

I think the HF is perfectly within their rights to count this as 30 minutes, though she could talk to them about counting as a full hour. Anything beyond that seems excessive, though, as it’s only one night a week and not during the weekend.

HRHM July 11, 2014 at 3:18 pm

And my only addition to that would be that as other HPs have stated above, if she’s unhappy with it only “counting” as a half hour, I’d be happy to make it a longer period, but I will be finding real work for her to do during that extra time so that it “counts” for me too.

Honestly, it sounds more like she is whining about having her social life interrupted because she has to be home every Tuesday for “only” a half an hour. This is not a reasonable complaint and speaks to a level of immaturity and inflexibility that I wouldn’t want to see in my AP.

WarmStateMomma July 11, 2014 at 12:26 pm

I agree with the others that it depends on the rest of the week’s schedule. It’s only 30 minutes on a night when not much is happening anyway.

Multitasking Host Mom July 11, 2014 at 4:43 pm

I had something like this happen once with a babysitter many years ago, before we hosted APs. (And yes, let me just say that I get that babysitters are different than APs, so this is not an exact comparison.) I needed someone to watch my kids for 2 and a half hours on Monday evenings while I went to a meeting with a volunteer organization I was working with on a project. After about a month of this, the babysitter told me that she wanted to work a minimum of 4 hours. I didn’t need that much time (with working full time I want to spend time with my family when I can), so I told her I could not use her anymore to babysit and found someone else. Frankly, it was more the attitude of the babysitter when she delivered this ultimatum to me that still bothers me….And I hear a little of that in this OP’s question.
Now back to the bigger picture. The main reason I have an au pair is for the flexibility in hours. I try hard to be a conscientious host mom who abides by the rules and also keeps my APs feelings in mind (like I am sure most of the people here are also), but when is comes down to it, if I need child care, I am going to schedule my AP to cover that time. And anyway, what happens on a Tuesday night, that can’t happen on the other 6 days of the week?

HRHM July 11, 2014 at 5:04 pm

And this is a real reason why people make the sacrifice (and for most of us it is a sacrifice) to house and feed and care for an AP in our homes as opposed to using sitters – flexibility. I have found that most sitters/nannies are not willing to do the split shift schedule or work shorter hours. When you are being paid by the hour and can get other work that has more hours or a better schedule, I totally get that. But for an AP, who can’t work other jobs with better hours or pay and who is getting guaranteed pay regardless of how many or few hours they work, we need you when we need you…

SwissAuPair July 15, 2014 at 2:03 am

An AP definitely can work other jobs with better hours and better pay (for example in her home country). It’s not like the AP-Life would give me an awesome amount of money or less hours than an other job. Acutally the AP job in the US is way more hours than in every other country in the world. I was an Aupair in 6 countries, and the US to me was the one with the worst work-money proportion. For example in Norway I worked for max. 30h per week/ 820$ month. +1300$ for classes, minimum 5 weeks of paid holiday + about 15 days of public holiday. That is like “Aupair-Heaven” compared to the US-Situation. I do not want you to get me wrong, I loved beeing an Aupair in the US, but I was not an Aupair because of the great shedule or great pay, I was an Aupair because I wanted to live the American Way of life.
I was so happy to go back to my “normal” engineer job, where I know when I have to start work, when I know when I can stop work, when I can take holidays whenever I want, when I get paid way more, …… After 6 years of Aupairing I was tired of the “flexible” shedule; and happy to go back to “normal” work.

I loved my life as an Aupair, because it is not about money but about the experience. But to say that an AP can’t work other jobs sounds just naive to me.

SwissCheese July 15, 2014 at 4:11 am

I’m curious, did you work as an Au Pair 6 years non-stop? Wasn’t it difficult to go back to your normal job respectively get one again? I’ll be an Au Pair in the USA and are thinking about to do another year as well after it in another country but I don’t want to be too long away and worsen my chances to get a job…

SwissAuPair July 16, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Not non-stop. I’ve been working for 6 different Families in 6 different countries. Between the different jobs, I was woking for about 4 to 6 months back home.
It was not difficult to go back to the normal job. But in my job are a LOTs of job offers (I’m a plumbing engineer), so that is a reason too, why it was so very easy to get back to work every time.

WarmStateMomma July 15, 2014 at 7:31 am

@SwissAuPair: I think HRHM’s point was that someone who is an AP in the US cannot work another job in the US, and she gets paid the same regardless of the hours worked. I don’t think she meant to compare it to alternatives to being an AP in the US.

Seattle Mom July 24, 2014 at 6:59 pm

I was going to say the same thing…

Taking a Computer Lunch July 11, 2014 at 8:56 pm

We had the same issue with nursing. When we gutted our house to make it handicapped accessible for The Camel, we could not host an AP. We needed someone for 2.5 hours in the morning to wake The Camel up, put her on the toilet, bath and dress her, feed her breakfast, brush her teeth, and put her on the bus for school. We were told that the minimum we could request was 4 hours. So DH took the AM routine and worked later, and we had the nurse take her off the bus in the evening, take her for a walk, feed her dinner, give her meds, brush her teeth, put her to bed, and read until her shift ended. (While I book the AP for 4 hours in the PM, she is done for the evening after The Camel is fed, so usually only works 2 – 3.5 hours. If I need my AP to cover 30 minutes while I run to pick up child #2, then I’ll do it – and I’m sure she’ll be grateful for a bit of a break to do what she wants, even if she can’t truly be “off” until I return.

Angie host mom July 11, 2014 at 7:51 pm

In isolation, one half-hour shift a week does not seem burdensome and seems like HF needs the flexibility of an AP because who can hire a sitter for 30 minutes?

I have never seen a minimum shift and have scheduled 30 minute shifts before for gap coverage. But we don’t hit 45 hours….

Southern Host Most July 11, 2014 at 8:59 pm

I too have struggled with how much time to schedule for short shifts. Feeling bad that my AP had to get up at 6:00 to get the kids to school by 7:00, I make it a 6:00-8:00 shift, explaining that the additional hour could be used for tidying up from breakfast, etc. AP 1 was grateful and used the time wisely. AP 2 didn’t. So I stopped feeling bad about the hour and quit scheduling the extra. AP 3 also uses it well. Each situation is going to be unique depending on the AP and the relationship. I try to be super fair, but also like the ability to take advantage of the flexible schedule….that’s why I have an AP and not a nanny. Other than school mornings I do try to avoid very short shifts. I am very honest with my APs about what their schedule is likely to look like when matching so it should not be a surprise.

exaupair July 12, 2014 at 6:37 am

I think you’re making a big deal out of a very minor thing OP. It’s Tuesday we’re talking about, what so important happens between 8 and 8.30pm on a Tuesday, that you couldn’t do other days? Even when you’re done at 8.30 you still have plenty of time to go out with friends.
However, if the 30 min gap goes beyond the max of your 45 hrs/week (you haven’t said how many hrs you work every week) you could just refuse and let the HP deal with that gap in a different way.

BroAuPair July 13, 2014 at 6:08 pm

I totally agree.

VirginiaHM July 12, 2014 at 10:50 am

Aupairs should have meaningful time off. A major part of the aupair program, at least for our family, is the flexibility of the work schedule. If this was not the case we would no longer need an aupair. We provide large ‘chunks’ of time off and long weekends. I schedule help I actually need and I don’t create longer work times than necessary. Some host families schedule their aupair to work 6:45-8:15am every Saturday morning so they can go to a fitness class together. Personally I think that would be a lot more painful than 30 minutes on a Tuesday night!

Emerald City HM July 12, 2014 at 11:50 pm

I think to be able to assess I really need to know what the rest of the week is like.

TexasHM July 13, 2014 at 12:15 am


Skny July 13, 2014 at 9:55 am

I Guess it depends on the context (how upset it makes the Au pair…).
Is it a: I really need my Au pair to help with this once a week for 30 min…
Or I do this every day on my own but I scheduled my Au pair for all possible needed times and still have 30 min left on my 45hs so… Why don’t I have her put kids to bed that day for 30 min…
Or Au pair works let’s say 9.5hs on Tuesday (till 6) and then has to be back from 8 to 8:30, making her break a non significant one….
We do need a weekly schedule to know

PA AP Mom July 13, 2014 at 2:31 pm

I used to use the split schedule Monday-Friday.

APs were to wake the boys at 730am and make sure they were ready and at the bus stop by 900am. Once they got on the bus she was free to do as she pleased until 300pm when the bus dropped the boys off and she would work until 700pm, except on Tuesdays when she worked till 900pm.

Total work week was 30hours or less per week. Not one of the 5 ever complained. They loved having their “days” free to go to the gym, grocery store, shopping, exploring, classes, or just watching tv or being online.

TexasHM July 13, 2014 at 11:53 pm

I don’t think the complaint is split schedule I think its insinuated that the problem is she works the afternoon (wild guess she works until 6pmish) and then has to be there to work again for 30 minutes between 8-830pm and then is off again, essentially killing any social plans for Tuesday night because those 30 minutes create a scenario where she can’t really do anything meaningful in the gap before or after.
Again, I think we need more detail. If this is a symptom of something bigger (AP works all kinds of split shifts because the HP want to get their 45 hours exactly every week whether they are home or “need” the AP or not or God forbid the HPs do it deliberately so that she can’t make meaningful plans which I doubt) then I can see the issue. If, however, the rest of the week she works a regular split shift (couple hours am, rest 3-6pm) and she’s just frustrated because she doesn’t want to have any evening or weekend hours then I would struggle to find any sympathy for her. I am also curious if the 30 minute shift was disclosed in matching. If they changed it to an hour would this AP be happier? 2 hours? What does she feel the resolution should be and why?

BroAuPair July 13, 2014 at 6:06 pm

i don`t know if I am being too judgmental but as an au pair myself, I see nowadays that most of the au pairs complain too much about everything, 30 min doesn`t seem to be much of a big deal, we should be flexible, and during the week theres nothing much going on, if it was on a saturday or sunday night that would be another story.

exaupair July 14, 2014 at 6:05 pm

Quite frankly, the majority of APs, who complain actually have reasons to complain….
Back to the original post, 30 mins may not seem a lot, but if the HPs squeeze a quarter here, 30 mins there and so on she has a reason to feel unhappy.

BroAuPair July 14, 2014 at 7:28 pm

the problem is we need more information to answer to this post….

4th time lucky?! July 16, 2014 at 9:01 pm

I agree with all above, more details are needed on individual cases and it’s difficult to have a general discussion about the issue. It all depends whether it’s a regular thing vs. a one-off; how short the short shift is; how much time the AP has either side of the short shift; what the alternatives are (as in the “10min-shift to drop kids off” examples) and what the HF’s motivation is (a real need vs. making sure every last minute available is used up or even being obstructive and malicious on purpose, which I’m sure does exist).

My related issue: We are just planning new AP schedule (due to arrive in a few weeks) – our work hours change and kids activity schedules vary so schedule is different for each AP.
We are able to give her app. 3 days off per week and think a long weekend (Sat, Sun, Mon) will encourage and help her to travel and explore more. However, I am out 2 nights a week during dinner/ kids bed time and we really need her to help out one of those evenings. One of those nights will be on a day that she will already be working for 9.5 hrs, i.e. we can’t schedule her for another 1.5 to 2.5 hrs in the evening. The other day is Monday…

How unfair and inconveniencing is it to schedule her for 2.5 hrs (say 5 to 7.30pm) on a day she is otherwise off, might be away and would potentially need to come back from a trip earlier? How bad do I have to feel?

WarmStateMomma July 16, 2014 at 11:15 pm

If I understand you correctly, the AP would work Monday evening, and then Tuesday-Friday all day. If that’s the case, I would describe the schedule as working 5 days a week, with a late start on Monday rather than “working on your extra day off.”

Taking a Computer Lunch July 17, 2014 at 6:47 am

Your schedule is super generous, so I wouldn’t expect any push-back on a Monday evening schedule. Don’t expect her to be traveling much on that day though – in my experience APs want to travel with friends, not alone, and most APs will be working.

My other advice, is to say “typically” to any schedule. Things are always subject to change.

4th time lucky?! July 17, 2014 at 5:40 am

Nicely said (and put in perspective). Thanks heaps!

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