Scheduling Your Au Pair: When does “On Duty” start and stop?

by cv harquail on March 28, 2014

When does an au pair actually ‘start’ or ‘stop’ being on duty?

When we’re counting up the hours in the week that we need childcare, it’s tempting to imagine that we can start and stop ‘on duty’ time right on the precise minute. How else are we to cover an entire week?

I look back now and feel a little embarrassed by then number of times I shortened a span of our au pair’s work time by 15 minutes here,  15 minutes there, just to make sure I didn’t go over my 45 hours.


The truth is that many of our au pair’s activities don’t really have hard and fast ‘stop’ times.

— How much time does it take to walk to pre-K from home, to pick up the toddler?
— How soon before the end of ballet should the au pair arrive, to make sure the kids know she’s there?
— If s/he drops them off at 4 and picks them up at 5, what does s/he do with the time in-between?

Here are some of the scheduling principles I’ve used:

1.  On Duty time should include the time it takes for an au pair to travel from your house to where he/she needs to be to connect with the kids.

translation: Use your home as a ‘home base’, and measure travel time from there. Figure out how long it takes to drive there safely from home, then back up that many minutes from the pickup time.  If your off-duty au pair is closer to the location, s/he gets the benefit of the extra minutes. If s/he is further away, it’s up to her to get going in time to be on time at the location.

2.  It’s not really ‘off duty’ time unless au pairs can use it to do something valuable on their own.

translation:  45 minutes between drop off and pick up is not enough time to be scheduled as ‘off duty’.  If you can find an errand that your au pair can do (Take car to car wash? Return library books?), put that into the schedule. If not, let your au pair use that as though your child was napping…. your au pair is on duty but can entertain himself until the child needs him. If you’re really nice, give her $4 for a latte.

3.  Schedule time for au pair-to- host parent transitions.

translation:  Make sure you build in some overlap time between your  schedule and your au pair’s schedule. You should never rush out without giving your au pair an overview of what’s happening, and you should always be home in enough time to get an update from your au pair. In truth, you should allow enough time to really listen to each other’s account of what’s going on. Good communication should happen at transition time, and it’s up to you as a host parent to make sure this time exists.

Are there some scheduling tips that you use to make sure you’re being fair?

What are some of your guiding principles?



See also:

Helping our au pairs in the grey space between what we say we’ll do and what we get done
Scheduling Your Au Pair: Naptime, Mealtime and Meaningful Breaks


Image: Dog in the Driver’s Seat, by Moonlight Drive Prints, available to purchase on Etsy


Host Mom in the City March 28, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Totally agree, and we do all of these. I also schedule enough time at the end of the day to allow for differences in commute time and actually getting out of the office time. The majority of the time, I get home at 5:30, but I have my au pair scheduled until 6:15 because every once in a while, it takes that long, and I want her just to have that time blocked off for me every day so I don’t feel stressed about being late. We do a pass-off, where she continues to be on for those 45 minutes until I tell her I have the kids – gives me time to put my stuff down, talk about the day, etc.

Another thing I do is that if I’ve had her time “reserved” even if I don’t use the time, I count it as hours. So if I get home and let her know I don’t need her anymore at 5:30, but have reserved her time until 6:15, I include those 45 minutes in her weekly total because she wasn’t able to make plans for those 45 minutes. If I have her scheduled for a day and unexpectedly take the kids myself, I still count that time in her total because she had it reserved for me.

Skny March 28, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Agreed. We follow those. We also keep in mind that if the au pair is mandated to have breakfast or dinner with family it is work time.
We saw a family who used to do daily family breakfast. The Au pair was mandated to participate in this DAILY. She couldn’t opt out and sleep late. For this hr every day she had to assist with breakfast (because obviously if she is part of the family, she gets to assist with feeding the kids and cleaning) and only then parents left and she was officially in charge.
In my book this was work time. If Au pair can’t refuse participation, it is work time.
Also, just because Child is sleeping doesn’t mean Au pair is off duty. I’ve seen families where parents leave home at 5, but kids don’t wake until 7, and Au pair is allowed to stay in her room “sleeping” with monitor. So family doesn’t count work hrs until 7. If she is the only adult in the house, she is on duty.
And finally I wish families were reasonable with Breaks during the day. A 1 or 2h break during nap time (even if mom is home and au pair is able to leave) should not count as time off. What can she really do in an hr or 2? Real productive do?

spanishaupair March 29, 2014 at 8:27 am

I really like the sleeping time is working time. Its mainly the only thing that annoys me of my HF’s way of scheduling and i have crazy schedule that can change with less than 24 hour notice (nor often) for my HM’s work and i dont mean an extra hour, but for example not working and working just once or twice but that makes you change any plans you have. But for them if its night hours and I’m alone with kids im not working, I dont mean babysitting but for example a few times they have to leave early 5.30 am and my schedule started at 7am for them, and yeah my HK usually wake up earlier than 7 and specially working overnight that for them is just example 1pm-9pm and 7am-midday when im really working 1pm-midday, im in europe so kind of different rules and well is not that often just weddings and so on, but its annoying to work 24 hours on a row and parents thing and really consider it like normal schedule and even relax one.

Yeah 1-2 hour break doesnt give you a lot, also depends where you live, in my first HF i lived in a good area with shops and parks and things to do so I spent the off duty time to relax and go shopping or for a walk, now i live in the countryside so i mainly relax in my room, study or read a book: in the first family i was happy to have the break and didnt mind it being not working hours, here im not so happy to have a split schedule instead of working all on a row and finish early, usually work all on a row have a toddler and full time working parents.

exaupair March 29, 2014 at 9:20 am

I really liked my split shift 8.30-10.30 and from 3pm to 6pm, I had plenty of time between 11 and 3 to do my own stuff or stay in the house and relax if I wanted to.

spanishaupair March 29, 2014 at 5:23 pm

Thats quite good gap. I usually if its split is 9-12 and 2-5.30 so i finish getting stuck home whole day but working 5 hours and a half, i live in a place that to go anywhere takes long, the nearest bus stop and supermarket is half an hour away, an hour round trip. For example in the other family 2 hours break meant freedom and do whatever i live in a town with everything in a walking distance so easy to do as i pleased

Emerald City HM March 28, 2014 at 9:10 pm

We don’t tend to schedule a lot of transition time, I do try to get home about 15 minutes before her shift ends, but sometimes it just ends up not being possible. We have the au pairs keep a daily log (not the one the agency gives, but one I taylored to us). If there is anything important I need to tell her about that day, I make sure it’s in the log. We also text pretty frequently.

This works better for us for a few reasons:
– We are a 9 hour day family.
– The coming home transistion is close to dinner time for the girls and pretty hectic anyway.
– With our au pair’s english level, written is much easier.

We don’t have to worry about the pick up and drop off things or split shift things, but yes I agree with the above scheduling principles when it comes to other things.

hostmomincolorado March 29, 2014 at 7:52 am

Emerald City HM-can you tell me where you got you tailored daily log (or did you make it yourself)?

What types of fields are on it that make it more custom to your situation?

We used to receive one from Cultural Care and it was very helpful, but the agency we use now does not provide. I would be very interested in maintaining a daily log with our incoming au pair who is arriving in May. If I have to make one, I’d love ideas on what kinds of prompts to include to get a better idea of what is going on each day while I am at work, how the kids/au pair are getting along, any issues, etc.

Emerald City HM March 29, 2014 at 12:42 pm

I made it myself and have enough pages to last about 6 months or so, then get a new one printed and bound at staples.

I basically have a large box at the top that is for “notes for today”, stuff that I need to communicate to her.

Then I split the page, 1 side for each girl. I have her record what and when they ate, diaper changes (and potty chair usage for the older one), and when they napped.

Then I have sections that ask about developmental activities each girl did that day, if there were any issues of concern (injuries, behavior, etc.), other activities done with both girls (books, outside time, …), I also have a section for “things we need” like groceries and stuff.

Should be working March 29, 2014 at 2:19 pm

When my kids were younger I had sections for:

What did child X NOT eat from his lunch? [And all this repeated on the same page for child Y]
How is child X’s mood? [Then I had a smiley face, a frowny face, and a sleepy face, she circled one plus I had space for comments she could add, like “said teacher was mean”.]
How is YOUR mood? [same choices, and space for comments–I think AP appreciated that I cared about her mood but I loved not having to ask and deal with it on the spot]?
Notes from AP to HM:
Notes from HM to AP:
Things we need to get:
What homework does child Z need more help with or did not complete yet:

Taking a Computer Lunch March 28, 2014 at 9:58 pm

I know it is easier to build in transition time and not “bend” time to fit into 45 hours when you have school-aged kids. When we were a 45-hour a week family, we literally had 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening to transition. Fortunately, that was a time when we literally had to count every calorie The Camel consumed because she was so underweight – so we had a log to tell us how she fared during the day. We put child #2 into preschool at 3 1/2 to build some flexibility in our schedule – and to have him spend more time socializing in English (at that point he spoke the au pair’s native language fluently).

I agree with the above points –
– if the AP is the only adult in the house, it doesn’t matter if the children are sleeping, she’s on the clock (if you want to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth – have her empty the dishwasher, fold laundry, or do other little chores that can be picked up and put down)
– if an AP uses one vacation day in the middle of the week, don’t book her to work 45 hours during the rest of the week
– parents of school-aged kids have the luxury of padding the schedule because they don’t use all the hours – I have my AP start 15 minutes before the first bus/carpool arrives home – because I want in her in the house and ready to work, not pulling up a minute after the bus (likewise, I build in time in the evening for me to change into kid-friendly clothing and to chat before she disappears). While I rarely have her “make up” my appearing earlier than the end of her shift, I do count it as free time – because she can Skype, text, sleep, watch TV or leave the house the minute we agree she’s done.

I agree, if she’s driving the carpool, then her shift starts the minute she would have to leave the house to get there on time, or the time it takes her to return home after dropping the kids off. (Because we have a sub-compact AP car, we prefer she return home and switch vehicles. We do grant permission to use the gas guzzling minivan on special occasions.)

Because we rarely go above 30 hours, we do ask the AP to run errands. We would not ask her to do that when she works a 45-hour week.

The AP is not on duty when she chooses to share a meal with us. We are very grateful when she helps with clean-up in any way. We do not require her to wash the dinner-dishes, but she is the one to empty the dishwasher most of the time (we do not leave it for her to empty on weekends).

CapitolHostMom March 29, 2014 at 10:44 am

Two things we can’t live without are google calendar and the daily log provided by agency (Au pair care). I write chores that include driving like car wash or grocery shopping, which she happily enjoys to do occasionally, in the notes section of google calendar. This way, she knows if she has time to go to Starbucks in between a child’s activity or she must run errands that day. Daily chores are written in the book. We have very little transition time when she starts and ends her shift, but everything is written in the log: meals, naps, major activities, etc. and she can cross off the household chores as she does them. If she needs to be reimbursed for gas or a nice cream cone or museum entrance, she tapes the days receipts into book. Once I pay them on mobile bank app, I write paid.

She is always working when baby is sleeping. She is always working when she’s shuttling kids until she gets home. Some weka are hectic and I seemingly schedule her by the the minute. I give her notice if a week will be crazy and tell her why. Other weeks are easier and if I’m home early I will tell her she’s off early and i don’t reschedule those hours. Wouldn’t you like it if your boss just surprised you and said, ok go home a couple hours early. Only exception, we have had one Au pair who frequently got lost despite having a smart phone and a gps. So when she got lost on a basic to and from school trip for like an hour, I didn’t take that hour from somewhere else.

I like relying on logs and google for work related things because it encourages the Au pairs independence, she likes not having to “report” the day to me every evening, and we save our talking for fun things like helping her with directions to a fun store, or teaching her how to book travel online or listen to her talk about her friends. We have a step teen kid at home and our 19 year old Au pairs are very similar to him, they want to do a good job, then they want to have their time and we respect that. I

Should be working March 29, 2014 at 2:25 pm

We usually have hours to spare, and I schedule my AP until 7pm although we get home around 6:30pm. And with older kids, she doesn’t have much to do once we get home (and she is so organized that all the little other tasks are done by then). I sort of wish she would hang around until 7pm, I like just having time to talk and hang around and feel family-like, plus she could pitch in when suddenly younger child complains she is bored even when older children are closed up in their rooms with homework. But our APs, after the first few weeks/months, tend to sort of disappear soon after we get home and “handoff” is complete.

It is true that there is no “good reason” for her to be around that last half hour. She has nothing specific to do, she is responsible, pleasant, and everything she needs to do is done, and she’s not staying for dinner so I can’t ask her to help us get ready. But I just like the “big family” feel right before dinner. I can’t insist she stick around if she has nothing to do, right? And I don’t think she needs to get in the face of my younger one to play with her if the younger one is well occupied. So I have trouble coming up with any reason to say “maybe just hang out with us a little?” when she pleasantly asks at 6:40pm, “So can I go upstairs and get ready to go out now?”

OpinionatedHM March 29, 2014 at 6:29 pm

I think you can ask her to hang around for those 20 minutes, since she is scheduled. I do think there would need to be a purpose to it, maybe you want to be free to get dinner going, or chat with your spouse without interruption, or make a phone call, and she could help if the kids had questions or something similar. If she is scheduled to 7pm, she is getting paid for that time.
I wouldn’t mind her asking if she can go get ready if it was clear she’d be happy to stay, but if I had any sense at all that she was begrudging me that time, we would have a conversation about her priorities and why she is an AuPair in my home. I would also be happy to let her go get ready if I didn’t need her to stick around, but I get the sense that you would really like to have those 20 minutes some days but don’t feel comfortable asking for them without a concrete reason. If it started to be a regular thing, I would change her schedule to end at 6:45 and eliminate the issue all together.

hOstCDmom March 29, 2014 at 6:33 pm

Why can’t you have her help get ready for the kids’ dinner? Set table? Supervise/ cajole kids into doing so? Or Make school lunches for the next day in kitchen while you are prepping dinner? ( offering conversation opportunities)

And/or simply tell her what you wrote here, that you schedule her to be on duty until 7.00 bc you want to build in time for leisurely catch up on the day, and you want her around until 7.00 :)

Taking a Computer Lunch March 29, 2014 at 10:13 pm

The evening shift is hard – the AP who has plans just wants to be done so she can head out with friends. Those who have friends who work a 45-hour week wish they were done at 5/6, just as their full-time friends are jealous of the long midday break. I don’t think you can force family time on an AP who has plans, what can can enforce is a communicate time. How was your day? What did you do? How were the kids? Was there anything in the backpacks that I need to know about? If you’re feeding the kids dinner, then you’ll want to know who didn’t eat their lunch. You can also use this time to talk about upcoming events that are out of the ordinary, like doctors’ appointments, a school concert, a soccer game, or planning a family trip.

But to ask an AP to stick around, when she knows the kids really want your attention and not hers (and she really wants to go hang out with friends) seems forced to me, although it doesn’t hurt to mention that you enjoy this big family time (just don’t let yourself be too hurt if it doesn’t prevent her from walking away).

AussiePair March 29, 2014 at 11:32 pm

I think you should mention that you’d like her to stick around for a few minutes after “handoff” to just chat about the day etc. and would appreciate it it if she could allow you that time when she doesn’t have any immediate plans. If you come from a place where this is time you would appreciate her giving you rather than forcing her to give it, I feel she should take that positively rather than feel negative about giving you that time. But every au pair is different

Personally I like sticking around for that portion of time when host mom or dad gets home. It let’s me tell them about how I felt about the day, how the children did, bring up any issues needing immediate attention and honestly, it’ s the first time in 9 hours that I’ve been able to have a proper conversation with an adult, it helps me feel human again in some ways (if that makes any sense??).

Caring HP March 30, 2014 at 7:46 am

Our LCC gave a lot of guidance on this general topic to the APs and HFs. She taught us and APs time management tips such as:
– if AP is waiting at Carpool or Karate Class for the Kids for an hour, that’s on the clock time because the AP cannot do anything much personally with that time. There are things that can be done in that time without the distraction of kids that will save the AP time later, for example, the cheerios the Kids dropped that morning or that week in the car can be cleaned up, fill a bag of trash from the car and keep wipes in the car to wipe down the car seats, check if the markers or crayons or books kids keep in car are accessible or organized, program Addresses into the GPS for the next AP, check essays or homework the kids needed an adult to check, if feasible put gas in the car/run to the carwash. It is still more relaxing time for the AP because she can listen to the radio, chat on the cell phone to friends etc because the Kids are not even with her.
-Per the LCC and common sense, an hour like that should not be considered ‘free time’ because the AP cannot go off to the gym or something for herself, so it is part of her 45 hours.
– If an AP is ‘free’ to do as she wishes for a reasonable period of time (depends on circumstances but 2 hours is a common guide) then it is fair enough to consider it part of the 45.
-Common sense and geographic and other circumstances have to factor in.
We typically need to schedule 45 hours but we assume we need 43-44 hours and have the extra 1 or 2 hours as a buffer. For example if I know I typically make it home in traffic by 6, I try to schedule AP til 6.15 or 6.30 for the handoff/traffic buffer or if we are going to a concert we expect to be over at 11pm, we would still schedule her til 12 just in case it ran over.
– BTW we never go over 45 hours but it is often a big strain on us to keep compliant with the 45 hours but I wish to avoid asking. I feel it could put the AP in a predicament. I expect the same reciprocal respect from my AP – I do not want constant nagging over expanding the car rules or other rules. I’ll keep my side of if but they should stick to their side.

Multitasking Host Mom March 30, 2014 at 11:42 am

Just being devil’s advocate here…
My employees at work, who are paid hourly, get half an hour (30 min.) for lunch. This is unpaid. Yes, they are not working, but they hardly have anytime to “do something valuable with their time” beside for just eating. Why is that ok, and meets US work rules, but an AP has to get an hour to two hours before it is not work time?

AussiePair March 30, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Not entirely sure on how the real operates here, but in Australia if you work a shift that is 8+ hours you get that 30 minute unpaid lunch, and you’re right there’s not enough time to do anything, however this break occurs at lunch time and happens every day, would you then have to provide your au pair with this lunch break everyday? Also, au pairs aren’t paid hourly.

However I do believe any time 30 minutes+ that the au pair is not caring for children or running errands for the host family (ie. the children are in the care of someone else NOT sleeping) should count as off duty time. I work for a 45 hour family and I see how hard it is for them to stay within the 45 hours, I certainly wouldn’t begrudge them making half an hour when I’m without children not count(which never happens with an infant), I can use that time how I like after all. However if I say did not have the children but was expected to stay at the venue they were at I think it would need to be counted because that time isn’t my own.

MountainHM March 31, 2014 at 11:26 am

I have the reverse problem with our au pair. How do you get them to leave when they are off duty? Our other au pairs all had busy social lives and were off with friends when they had time off. Even, 6 months in, this one never has plans and just hangs around doing nothing.

anna former au pair June 17, 2014 at 8:33 am

I foten hade a 2 hur break in the middle of the day when the HM wanted some time with the toddler. I would not have minded so much if I had any chance to do something other than take a walk. What would really get my goat was the HM moaning about their hours not being enough, and wanting to make sure to use all 45 hours/week when I was working 6+6 hours a day. I would probably have been a lot happier with a 9×5 hur week arrangemanget.

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