Should au pair rules be changed, to allow for “extra vacation without pay”?

by cv harquail on January 25, 2012

Within the legal boundaries of the au pair program, both host parents and au pairs like to have a bit of personal discretion.

We want to be able to satisfy family demands and any sensible au pair dreams. We want to be flexible when issues come up, and we want to be accommodating and reasonably generous.

And, we host parents want to be fair.


We host parents spend a lot of time here talking about what the program rules are, why they exist, and when it feels appropriate — for either a parent or an au pair – to bend these rules. We also spend a lot of time giving each other advice about what’s really appropriate, since we often look at our own situations and focus on a pressing demand, blind to the bigger picture or the longer term implications of a decision.

Sometimes, though, an au pair rule or regulation that seems easy to understand and apply actually turns out to allow one party to take advantage of the other.

So it wasn’t a surprise to me when a host mom emailed me with concerns about a small change in one agency’s policies regarding unpaid vacation time.

Dear AuPairMom-

Our au pair has been told that our au pair agency, APIA, allows for host parents to give au pairs unpaid extra vacation time. (Our au pair wants an extra week off to take a long trip to DisneyWorld, etc. She has already had a week of paid vacation.) She pointed out to us an item on her au pair cluster newsletter page:

Au pairs receive two weeks paid vacation. If your schedule permits, and you and your host parents agree, you can be given additional vacation days without pay.

As a host parent, I always want to play by the rules. I’m not against the idea of giving an au pair an extra week under our roof, being off duty but being able to eat, vacation or whatever.

However, from our current agency and our former agency, and also with all the conversation here on AuPairMom, we’ve understood that the HF must pay the stipend 51 weeks of the year, and that we we cannot withhold a stipend any week, for any reason — no ifs, ands or buts. And I think this is the right policy!

I am not sure what the actual regulations require. I looked at Title 22 § 62.31 of the US regs governing the au pair program, and it doesn’t actually seem to say that the stipend cannot be withheld….

But more importantly, I am concerned that if host parents (an au pairs) are told that it is okay to have a week or two– or more — of “unpaid vacation”, there is too much potential for HF to abuse this policy. I’m thinking about the HFs who will want to “give” APs “vacation time” “off” without pay….when the APs don’t actually agree to this.

Think about the families who send their kids to four weeks of sleep-away camp yet need an au pair the rest of the summer. And think about those ‘long weekends’ when an au pair could lose a day or two of pay for a vacation day she didn’t need or want.

I’m afraid that HFs will abuse this change, and that Au Pairs will end up being here for weeks when they have no ‘pocket money’ coming in and not enough saved to make a difference. Many au pairs just aren’t in situations where they feel then could speak up if they were ‘given’ extra time off.

So here’s my question– is it actually ‘legal’ to do this? And, is it really the right decision for Agencies, to say that unpaid vacation is normal and negotiable?

I’d love to hear the thoughts of other readers. Thanks so much.

Should Agencies encourage "unpaid vacation" weeks for Au Pairs?

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singlemom January 23, 2012 at 8:52 am

I am a single mom. If my aupair asked for a week of unpaid vacation, I would be hesitant to say no because she probably deserves it. However, being single, that means I would have to find other care or take the entire week off of work. Something that is hard for me to do. I would prefer this not be an option so I am not put in this situation.

HRHM January 25, 2012 at 9:25 am

I think if the AP wants extra time off and the HP can afford to have her gone, it is a great opportunity for her to have time to see more of the US. In addition, there are a lot of families who use APs who take more than 2 weeks of vacation and it sucks to have to pay for care that you aren’t using, only to then also pay when she wants off while you need her. (speaking from experience). This is something that AP and HP should be able to negotiate.

DCMomof3 January 25, 2012 at 9:55 am

One thing that au pairs seems to forget very easily is the $7000 or so that we pay the agency up front. That money covers the whole year of work. So, giving the AP an extra week off without pay does not only mean that the HF is keeping $196 and letting her take the time off. It also means that we paid the agency for that week of work and we are getting nothing in return. Aside from HF vacation, there is rarely any time during the year when there is “nothing for the au pair to do.” Even if the HP are home from work and can hang with the kids, there is still always laundry, shopping, toy organization, and other things that the AP can do around the house. Maybe the AP would rather be traveling, but I would be hesitant to let her have a “free” week off when I’ve already paid for that time to the agency.

AFHostMom January 25, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Very much this. While we would work with our AP to every extent possible and are fortunate enough at the moment to be flexible, I have a coworker whose AP asked for 2 extra weeks of unpaid vacation, and the HM said no both because of work schedules and because of the cost of the agency fee, that the AP never considered. Sure, it’s not much but it’s another of those little things that add up. It’s kind of annoying that APIA explicitly puts it out there because it does present the risk of an AP expecting it.
Having said that–we’re fortunate to be in a position to give our AP extra weeks (paid) off occasionally. And I am with the majority that this could be negotiated–though that assumes that au pairs are on equal footing with the HPs.

Host Mommy Dearest January 25, 2012 at 9:57 am

I think HFs and APs who communicate well and have a good relationship could probably handle negotiating this, but of course that is not always the case. I think if it truly is agreed to by both parties, the HF should pay the stipend as normal (by check or DD or whatever) and the AP should pay the HF back for the extra week or agreed to portion of a week for the extra days off. I am thinking there would be less misunderstandings and assumptions that way and the HF could not just decide the AP is taking unpaid vacation whenever. If the AP relationship turns sour later, the AP could not claim that the HF withheld her stipend either, since there would be a record of payment.

Returning HM January 25, 2012 at 10:55 am

We’re actually facing this situation now. We went away for 10 days over the winter break, and AP had her boyfriend here that entire time, plus four more days. Only two of those were days when I actually “needed” help (as in, needed to hire back-up care), so we only “charged” her two days of vacation for this time (paid normal stipend of course for whole time). Come March, AP’s best friend from home is coming for 10 days. The come April, mom and sister are coming for two weeks. Then come May, godfather is coming for two weeks. In total, she will have had guests for 8 weeks of her 48 with us (she asked to go home a few weeks early at the end of her year, to get set up for fall classes). For nearly all of the time she has guests, AP wants to travel.

It so happens that I have a super flexible schedule AND that AP’s friends and family are largely coming at times that I am between semesters or on spring break. If I had her help, I would definitely use it to write during those times, but I can eek by with afternoon babysitters for most of those days or fill in myself. So I approved the extra days off (very reluctantly with the last request – the friend – after having already said yes to boyfriend, mom/sister, and godfather), but honestly, I do not feel I should have to pay her stipend for all of this time.

So when she came to me with all of these requests, I told her that while I could do my best to spare her for the time her visitors were here, it really wasn’t fair to me to have to pay her for all of these weeks of not having her help. I explained that I had already paid the agency for her — and for the 2-3 weeks she wants to go home early as well — but that after her taking her choice of 10 vacation days, she needed to take any other days *that I would otherwise use her help* unpaid.

Ultimately, she is getting a great deal, as her 10 days of vacation do not include 12 of the 14 days she had off with her boyfriend at Christmas (because we were away), nor does it include the week we are going away in February, when she is going to Florida with friends but since we would not otherwise be using her help, we will pay her anyway.

I didn’t know this was now “legal” with APIA, but this was just what made sense to both AP and me; if AP had not agreed to take some of this massive vacation time unpaid, then I would not have said yes to all or even much of it. It’s a huge inconvenience to our family to have AP away this much, and next year I will be very clear about limiting the number of total vacation days an AP can take (which I didn’t do going in with this AP, as none of our previous ones have taken anything like this, and we since we really like this AP and think she is a lovely young woman, our inclination is to say yes to her).

To me, it’s all about good communication. AP is deeply grateful for all of the time off we are giving her and so is quick to jump in and help extra as needed. We will need to hire back-up babysitters for some of the time she is going away, so it’s only fair that we not pay her stipend for the weeks and weeks that she will be away. It’s all a give-and-take to us. In general I am a “rule follower” and try to operate always within the guidelines of the AP program. In this case, though, if I stuck to the rules, it would be hurting AP much more than it would be hurting me (I’d personally rather have her help and pay her her usual stipend, then have to find back-up sitter help), but then she would not get to travel and see as much of the US as she otherwise will.

cv harquail January 25, 2012 at 3:53 pm


I’m kindof freaking out over the amount of vacation your au pair is getting… because of this line:

“If I had her help, I would definitely use it to write during those times, but I can eek by with afternoon babysitters for most of those days or fill in myself.”

To me, this sounds like you’re shortchanging yourself of time to do those ‘important and not urgent’ things that build your career, but that too often get pushed aside by urgent things.

Being generous to an au pair is nice, but is it worth losing 8, 12, 20 hours of time to write up your research? Isn’t that why you have an au pair, so that you & your DH can do your work?

Of course, you’ve got your reasons and I don’t mean to second guess you, but I couldn’t hold back on this one. What I wouldn’t give for an chance to redo those tradeoffs of my early academic career…


Returning HM January 25, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Hi CV – Not early in my career at all (tenured, research I univ, never changing jobs), and this is a ‘down’ semester for me. Third book is out for edits, I am finally taking the course releases I’ve been due, and I’m looking forward to breathing, having coffee with friends, and not working as hard as I’ve been doing. So while I would be happy to write, I’m honestly even more happy to “have” to hang out with my children.

No martyr here at all. If it means I have to “blame” the “AP’s travel schedule” for the fact that I can’t go to a few faculty meetings or P&T battles, so be it.

FifoMom January 26, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I think this has to do with fairness on some level. When you had signed the contract with the agency, both AP and HF agreed on 10 paid vacation days. Whatever amount of $ you’re shelling out is supposed to equal 45hr of care x 50 weeks of the year.

If the au pair is negotiating for something different, then you ought to be able to negotiate something back. For example, can she ‘exchange’ her hours so that she makes up the hours that she’s taking off?

I understand that rules are rules, but if she’s going to break them by not working the agreed-upon amount, then you should be able to negotiate something as well.

If it’s all fine with you and you don’t care about paying extra for work you’re not getting, then that’s completely fine because it’s ultimately about what works for you. But I just wanted to share my thoughts here.

LuvCheetos January 25, 2012 at 11:07 am

Our AP gets lots of extra days off because we are home or have family visiting or whatever. It would never have occurred to me not to pay her for those because it is for my convenience that we’re around. She’s “available” to work. We’re just choosing not to use her.

If the AP asked for an extra unpaid week to travel, I would probably say no. I’m paying hte agency about $150 per week for the AP. So I would lose that $150 plus have to find back up childcare. That said, we have given extra days off here and there for a good reason (long weekend away or something). We’re not completely unreasonable, but I’m not sure the APs understand how much we actually pay.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 25, 2012 at 11:59 am

I have a different problem. I’m already having a conversation with my AP about using her vacation time, because she’s already halfway through her year and she hasn’t taken one day off yet. I run into this problem year after year. Just last week, I said to my AP that it was time to start talking with her friends about when they would take time off.

My handbook says that one week vacation is to be taken when the kids are both at sleep-away camp (mine only have one concurrent week), and that the other time may be taken at once or in spurts, but it must be taken while the kids are in school (I once paid nearly $500 to hire a driver for one child who needed to be dropped off and picked up at a day camp 40 minutes from my home, and the young woman, very agreeable, also picked up feeding my special needs child in the PM to make the week worth her while -all because an AP didn’t get her act together during the school year – never again!)

Personally, I don’t assume that my APs will have time off when friends and family visit. When guests book their trip we sit down and discuss when they are working and when they are off. Hey, I’ve had their mothers walk my special needs child around the neighborhood – leading to jokes about how old my APs are getting. Because my APs have 6 hours off in the middle of the day, they usually have more than enough time to tour with their families, and we negotiate how many days off they will take to travel (usually they make it a long weekend).

I’d say any HF that puts up with constant guests and continual requests for time off above and beyond what is reasonable is both being abused by the AP and letting themselves be abused. Returning HM, once you’ve granted time off, it’s done, but I think it’s okay to say, “I know you think because my university is on spring break that I’m on vacation, but I need to write a paper, so I’ll need you to work.” Have that conversation a month or two ahead of time, so that the AP’s expectations are set.

I also know that we’re different from many HF, because we usually take our AP on trips (it helps to have an extra adult caring for our special needs child – that way it feels a little bit like a vacation and not just like a trip). Often AP friends are invited to come along, and we usually grant a day off without charging against vacation – after all we are off anyway, so hopefully it feels a little bit like a vacation to them, too.

Vacation conversations are good to have well in advance. For example, many APs are taking classes right now and have a spring break in March. You and she need to sit down and discuss whether or not that is a reasonable time for her to take some vacation, or if you would prefer her to take time off after her course is done in May. For those of you with school-age kids, their spring break will almost always differ from hers. If you’re not heading out of town with them, it’s time to help her anticipate having them around full-time for the week. I usually have the summer vacation conversation early in April, so my AP can look ahead and plan her last weeks with our family knowing she will be working more than usual.

Only once in 11 years have I agreed to time off without pay, and that was an AP who had been booked to join us on vacation, for which I had made dinner reservations because she would be caring for the kids, and some plans for some day hikes as well, and when she begged off at the last minute, I said fine, but no pay (I’m with APIA). She agreed. Otherwise, I work hard to get my childcare needs met (I do give my APs most federal holidays off, so there are plenty of 3-day weekends throughout the year to book travel).

Returning HM January 25, 2012 at 12:27 pm

We did discuss days off while AP’s guests are visiting, and she will not be taking all full weeks each week her guests are there. She will be there some weeks for the 1-2 days/week that I am teaching. Certainly, her family will help with the children on the days I travel. I don’t in the least feel taken advantage of. I said yes, thoughtfully and with time to ruminate, so it’s my decision and I don’t harbor a grudge. I just will manage expectations differently in the future.

For the purposes of this topic, I consider it a good thing and not a bad thing that I like an AP enough to say yes to her requests, even when it inconveniences me. I just don’t want to have to pay (over and above what I already paid the agency) for my kindness.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 25, 2012 at 11:17 pm

Well, see, when you wrote the second time you seemed much happier about it – so my guess is that writing was cathartic. In general, I have enjoyed being generous to APs when their parents visited (siblings, when they come, have usually traveled with the parents) by granting extra days off.

I will say, that if her year has not come to a close by the time all the guests have come and gone, that it would be a good idea to sit down and have a chat about those last weeks with you.

I had one AP who chafed at extra work in her final weeks (I was trying to research, write & mount two large exhibitions at the same time and was working weekends to get it done). She was in a better mood when I pointed out to her that I had been generous when I could (e.g. when friends & family visited) and needed her to find the same level of generosity in her last weeks so I could get my projects up on the walls on time. She did.

Calif Mom January 27, 2012 at 10:44 am

Totally agree. When friends/family visit, the au pair still works most of the time. It’s very possible that my husband will have last-minute travel and my schedule is not that flexible, so we just can’t make that promise. If they want a day off while they have visitors (who are probably staying at my house) then it’s definitely vacation time. They get paid, but it doesn’t magically morph into another unpaid week later on…)

The best au pairs have NEVER asked to take time off while they have friends staying with us. If I can wangle covering the Friday afternoon school pick up, I will as a bonus, but they are usually so grateful that we are letting their friends stay with us at all that they bend over backwards to do their jobs well that week. And our kids get twice the fun of having two cool, happy, 20-somethings to hang out with. win-win-win

Should be working January 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm

I voted that unpaid vacation should not be allowed, and indeed it is because of the abuse potential. We HPs on this blog are, I believe, the responsible, considerate, see-both-sides HPs. Sooooo many HPs are not. Most of the APs I know through our AP work work more hours than allowed, in shifts that are not in the spirit of the rules, and do chores that are not in the spirit of the rules.

So if I could I would vote that “Only readers of may negotiate their own arrangements, in consultation with the community”!

massaupairmom January 25, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Interesting, everyone seems most concerned about the potential for host families to abuse au pairs. I am more concerned about my au pair coming to me, with newsletter in hand and extra vacation dreams in her heart, as op’s au pair did! I picture her imploring me for additional time off that I can sincerely not accommodate without great inconvenience and loss of income. Au pairs do get a travel month…though I have noticed that many do not seem to use it.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 25, 2012 at 11:08 pm

My European APs have used their travel month, other APs have not (although fair enough one stayed in the country on a student visa, one went home on short notice when a sibling attempted suicide, and one extended with another family). Most of my European APs budgeted for it, one did not and hung out with us and her friends for a few weeks but only “traveled” with us on vacation – NEVER go to a small cottage with an outgoing and incoming AP, it’s not fair to the incoming AP!).

I think it depends on the AP’s expectations coming into the program, whether her closest friends arrived at the same time, and her own travel goals.

WestMom January 26, 2012 at 9:35 am

I am with you massaupairmom on this one. I follow the rules and would never withhold pay, but I too worry about the request itself, yet putting me in an uncomfortable situation. I need the hours, and organizing for the two weeks off is already complicated. And thanks for reminder us about the extra month of travel, which we should encourage them to take advantage of.

NoVA Host Mom January 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Not only the travel month, but if she suddenly goes into rematch, none of the forms I have ever seen (including from APIA) make any mention of any unpaid vacation days used. That would then put the HF on the hook for whatever from the 51 paid weeks was not paid, no matter what the previous agreement was. And with an AP who is departing, I would not trust her to bring up what she is not owed (yeah, burned a bit on a couple of rematches. can you tell? ;) ). So this can be considered a post about potential for the APs to abuse such a gift.

Calif Mom January 27, 2012 at 10:48 am

OH yes. untaken leave shifts over to the rematch au pair’s new host family. That’s why we specify that it has to happen during school year. This totally sucks for families of younger children. CHI actually prorates it between families, which is more fair than what APIA does.

But given the alternative, having a better au pair is well worth the annoyance of covering their vacation time.

HRHM January 26, 2012 at 10:06 am

In our particular circumstance, we negotiate with the AP in advance that her vacation weeks must coincide with ours. We always take off the first week in March and the last week in Sept, as well as a week in August and possibly one at the holidays (either Christmas or Tgiving.) So this gives her PLENTY of choices of when to arrange her vacations, and lots of notice to plan. If she plans accordingly and then we are gone beyond the two weeks that she is alotted, we pay her for the additional weeks but would ask that she spend some of that time doing child-related type stuff around the house (organizing the toys and books, changing out clothes for seasonal changes, doing laundry and cleaning bedroom and bathroom as usual) If she spends time that week doing local touring, great! If she wanted to go away as well and NOT do any of the above-mentioned tasks, then it would be open for negotiation. With a stellar AP, I’d be inclined to let her go with pay. With a marginal AP, I’d tell her if she wants extra time off it would be without pay.

The situation that we ran into was with an AP who was getting the 3 weeks vacation with pay (because we don’t take them on vacation with us anymore – that’s a whole other story) and then INSISTED that she had to have off for another week in the middle of October when I was deployed and DH was working full-time and would not take no for an answer (“December will be too cold in Miami and if I wait until March my year will be almost over, so why would I want to take vacation then?”) So in the end we let her have the week but didn’t pay her for it.

Should be working January 26, 2012 at 12:56 pm

HRHM, some time I want to hear you tell what it is like to be deployed and have kids at home. Not to mention managing an au pair situation from a distance. Guest post, perhaps?

NoVA Host Mom January 30, 2012 at 1:05 am

Oh, Yes! I vote for that guest post. It might give the rest of us with funky schedules a little help with something not nearly as severe as your set up. Please!!!

newhostmom January 26, 2012 at 10:43 am

I too see the potential for abuse and (I guess because I’m a relatively “good” host mom and would never not pay my AP unless we had agreed to it and it worked for both of us) am more concerned about host parents being abused, honestly. I’ve heard many stories of APs wanting additional time off and I assume that many would think “I can take as much time off as I want as long as they aren’t paying me – it’s not costing them anything!” APs (simply because they tend to be young people who have not experienced trying to find back-up care!) have no idea of how expensive and time-consuming and sometimes downright impossible it is to find back-up childcare when they are gone. So it’s not just as simple as “you give me lots of time off, and you get to keep the money.” It costs me more to find back-up care than it does to pay the AP, not to mention the fact that I’ve already paid $8,500 for the year up front.

All that said, we did give our wonderful AP an extra two weeks of unpaid vacation when her boyfriend visited. He visited in the fifth month and she didn’t want to take her entire 2 weeks off so early (and I wasn’t comfortable with her watching the kids with boyfriend in tow). So I gave her the 2 weeks off unpaid with the stipulation that we needed to really try to plan at least most of her 2 paid weeks off to coincide with our vacations in the summer. We were both happy with this – it was over Christmas, so it wasn’t difficult to find back-up care and for us to take time off.

So I guess I kind of like it as it is – not explicitly stated as allowed to do unpaid leave, but something that host parents and APs who are getting along well to negotiate on.

Colorado Mom January 26, 2012 at 11:09 am

Just thinking out loud here, but maybe it could be worded by the agencies to say something like “Additional unpaid vacation time may be allowed upon mutual agreement between both parties” or something like that.

I can absolutely see the potential for abuse, but I can also see circumstances where this might be allowed if it works for everyone involved. Our AP had her family coming over to visit towards the end of her AP year. She had used all of her vacation time, but at the last minute her family decided to come to the U.S. a week early and do an escorted bus tour of the East Coast. They invited her to go along and offered to pay for her to do so, including her flight East.

This, of course, meant she needed a week of unpaid vacation. I know our agency rules say this isn’t allowed, but on the other hand, I couldn’t afford to give her a “free” week of stipend and pay for back up childcare (double paying the stipend and the back up). We mutually agreed that she would take the week of vacation unpaid. It was somewhat of an inconvenience for me, but what an awesome opportunity for her to travel with her family – I thought it was important for her to have that, and I was happy to give it to her. But I hated that we had to “break the rules” to make it possible.

Dorsi January 26, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I have the opposite problem — AP this year did not plan her vacation well (after much initiation on my part) and ended the year with one week unused. She asked about a month before departure if she could just skip the vacation and be paid extra. While I feel a bit bad for her (I wish she would take the opportunity to travel) this is an AP that is always out of money and really didn’t have a lot of choices for travel — everything costs too much. I wonder what to pay her for her extra week of work? A week’s stipend? What I would have had to pay for backup care? (As mentioned above, those are vastly different numbers…)

AFHostMom January 26, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Our last AP was a saver and didn’t take her 2 weeks, so we gave her 2 paid weeks off at the end of her year. I would pay the regular stipend.

NoVA Host Mom January 26, 2012 at 9:25 pm

We had one inform us at the start of her year that I could just go ahead and give her an extra week’s pay and she would not take her vacation.

Um, NO. Since your vacation is paid and part of the 51 weeks that she is paid while with us, she is not eligible for a 52nd week of pay for not using her allotted vacation time. It took me nearly 2 days for her to understand that one. I explained that if she chose not to take her vacation time, that was on her, but she was getting the stipend regular weekly stipend anyway and would have to work.

A January 27, 2012 at 5:48 pm

This may be a cultural thing. I know that where I’m from, we get paid for any unused holidays… so I would also be confused by that not being the case at first.

HRHM January 28, 2012 at 9:20 pm

In the US, in a regular job, it’s up to the employer and usually clearly stated in the beginning (most of us get some kind of employee handbook). For example, in the military we get 30 days of leave (vacation) per year, but if you leave town that includes weekends if they are part of your week off (so taking off M-F from work but going Sat through the following Sun, we use up 9 days not the normal 5 llike most people do) At then end of the year, we can roll over unused vacation time to the next year…but once we have 90 days, you can’t roll any more over and they are lost – NO compensation for those unused days ever. This system obviously only works in a place where people stay more than a couple years and honestly, for a HF, would not work at all. Who would want their AP hoarding all her vacation time and then taking it at once, leaving the family in the lurch for childcare for 4 whole weeks?

AFHostMom January 28, 2012 at 10:08 pm

But you can cash out your unused leave when you separate–it may only be enlisted members who can do this, though, in lieu of going on terminal leave.
Our handbook states that we will cash an AP out for her sick days (our choice and not, as far as I know, regulated at all by the program guidelines)but doesn’t talk about leave. Maybe it should. The problem is, if a HF and AP work something out in violation of State Dept rules (knowingly or otherwise), it obviously creates an issue.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 28, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Not, it’s not just enlisted personnel who can cash out, any FED can (and retirees often save up to the max to do so – it can add up to several months pay).

That notwithstanding, I just make my APs take two weeks of leave. When my kids were babies, it meant extra time with them. When my special needs child was in school, but my son wasn’t, it meant a special day with him. Now, it means DH taking an hour off in the AM, and me 1 1/2 hours in the PM. We just factor AP vacations into our holiday time. It not a problem, except in years in which our special needs child has had major surgery (more than once).

The only problem for me has been summer – because I’m usually mentoring interns and cannot take time off. Now it’s off the books, and I don’t have to hire temporary child care.

Personally, I enjoy reconnect-with-my-kids time that includes more than 48 hours at the weekend! I know everyone doesn’t have that luxury, but I thoroughly enjoy it (but do require some lead time from my AP so I can manage it).

Taking a Computer Lunch January 26, 2012 at 11:23 pm

I had one AP who delayed taking her vacation and six weeks out before the end of the school year (after paying through the nose one summer for substitute childcare I won’t be doing that again!) I told her that if she didn’t pick her vacation days, then I would. It only took her a few days to make arrangements.

I tell my APs that they may take their week off in chunks (they already have the week the kids spend in summer camp off) or as one unit – it’s their choice. I have had some take a lot of long weekend trips, while others have taken a full week off. I have had one European and one Brazilian save up her time and go home for a special event.

Aupair09 January 27, 2012 at 5:41 pm

I was an aupair a few years ago and did not use all of my vacation time, because I’ve had most of my traveling planned for my 13th month and needed to safe up money for that. I did two weekend trips, but didn’t really need the rest of my vacation time. Frankly I could have taken more time off, but I didn’t see the point. Making my hostfamily find and pay backup-care while I’m around doing stuff like going to the mall/pool/hanging out with friends. Didn’t make any sense to me! Not in a million years would I have asked my HP to pay me extra for the non-taken vacation days! They were more than generous throughout my whole year, taking me on their family vacation (all expenses paid) and didn’t count that as vacation time – while really I hardly ever worked during that week! Plus it was my decision to not take the rest of my vacation time – no one made me do that – so why would I put the consequences on my HP having to pay me extra money. I don’t think that is very fair!

KM January 26, 2012 at 3:54 pm

The au pair program regulations are coupled with Department of Labor wage and hour laws. Host families are considered employers by the IRS, the Department of State and the Department of Labor. Having worked with regulatory bodies previously in my career, I found regulations conflicted among various government agencies. It would be hard to guess where to draw a line. Do wage and hour laws allow employees unpaid vacations? If yes, then would this conflict with au pair program regulations?

I guess au pair agencies may interpret regulations differently. This certainly could cause confusion in the au pair community and possibly undermine host family/au pair relationships, not to mention host family/au pair agency relationships.

Another problem is regulations may not be explicit but implicit. It’s how the implicit regulations are interpreted and who interprets them. There is more confusion when multiple regulatory officials have different interpretations and communicate them accordingly.

Would it be more helpful if there was more uniformity on topics like this? Or is it more helpful to have various interpretations allowing for more individual options? I don’t know.

OB Mom January 26, 2012 at 9:01 pm

I had a situation a while ago where I was glad to have this option. I lost my job in January and decided to keep the au pair with us in case I got a job in a short time. In the end it took 6 months for me to find a job (which itself is a part-time job). My AP was worried that we would send her home so I asked her to help me “buckle down” the expenses and then she could stay. It turned out that her brother and cousin were coming to town so we gave her a random 3 week unpaid vacation in March. That saved me some $ (yes only $600, but that’s not bad when you are unemployed). We never discussed with the agency, but just did it.

I think that having guidelines is important, but also having flexibility to meet each families needs is necessary. It’s up to mutual agreement and the AP must know that beforehand and the family must know they are obliged to pay the full year if the AP CAN work.

As usual, it’s about a good relationship and strong communication.

NoVA Host Mom January 26, 2012 at 9:40 pm

While I’m okay with the option of providing a *few* additional vacation days (for a long weekend here or there) for an AP who has been a hard worker and put a lot back into the family and experience, I was under the impression that the “without pay” portion was not an option. We are reminded and scolded and given forms at rematch that first year APs are paid for 51 weeks of their year. No where on any form I’ve seen does it mention anything about unpaid leave beyond the 2 weeks off (which, due to our schedule, we do a flat Sunday to following Saturday no matter how it falls). I question if they were meaning more a thing where HFs can give additional time off beyond the 2 weeks (again, as said above, it would have been nice to have a mention of “with HF mutual consent”)?

Otherwise, I’m really not a huge fan of the idea. I’ve taken unpaid leave before. And the number of hoops that have to be jumped through for that one was not small. And it was because I had a baby (not for social reasons).

On my job, we get X number of vacation hours. If you use them up early, you do not get any more later on. It’s management and planning. Maybe it is better for APs to focus on those longer trips in their 13th month instead. The financial hit to HFs can be bigger than the APs are aware of.

Posie January 27, 2012 at 11:23 am

What about the au pair who wants to unofficially extend a few weeks? Our current AP plans to use her travel month but would like to earn a bit more and work 2 extra weeks, then travel about 10 days. She has been a good saver but already took 2 Fairly expensive 1-week trips for her vacations so the extra ~400 would make her trip more luxurous. Haven’t matched with new AP yet so could choose a 2 week later arrival date. Thoughts?

HRHM January 27, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Totally illegal, but I know many families do it.

Under the J-1 regulations, they may not work during the 13th month, for HPs or anyone else.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Yup, totally illegal and don’t tell your LCC that you’re doing it. I’ve done once – because our kids summer camp week and family vacation was scheduled at transition time. Gave the outgoing AP the option of having the new AP arrive early and moving out of her room to make way for the new AP, or having a “bonus” week while the kids were in camp and working two extra weeks. She took the latter option (she, too, was perpetually short on cash). Having done that, because she also stuck around and we had both APs on family vacation, I won’t try to go for overlap again. That being said, I’ve had the AP in the travel month return for a few days before heading home, which is not quite the same as overlap, as it gives the incoming AP some weeks to establish her own routine and authority, before the outgoing AP returns in her whirlwind.

Julie January 31, 2012 at 4:10 pm

The stipend is not allowed to be withheld for any reason, in accordance with State Department regulation. This means that if an au pair is in your home working for you, they receive the stipend every week–no exception until their last week. There is no additional vacation without pay allowed, if an agency is following State Department rules. It’s that simple. I checked in with our agency and they gasped (literally) at the thought of au pairs not receiving pay for vacation. You can give them more, but you have to pay them for it. Not only can the family get kicked out of a program, but the agency can be fined for permitting this.

HRHM January 31, 2012 at 4:48 pm

While this may be what your agencies stance is on the subject, I can’t find any actually wording in the Electronic Code of Federal regulations that actually specifies that they can’t be given unpaid time off.

(j) Wages and hours. Sponsors shall require that au pair participants:

(1) Are compensated at a weekly rate based upon 45 hours of child care services per week and paid in conformance with the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act as interpreted and implemented by the United States Department of Labor. EduCare participants shall be compensated at a weekly rate that is 75% of the weekly rate paid to non-EduCare participants

(2) Do not provide more than 10 hours of child care per day, or more than 45 hours of child care in any one week. EduCare participants may not provide more than 10 hours of child care per day or more than 30 hours of child care in any one week;

(3) Receive a minimum of one and one half days off per week in addition to one complete weekend off each month; and

(4) Receive two weeks of paid vacation.

Maybe you’ve read something from the State Dept that I haven’t?

AnonMom January 31, 2012 at 5:38 pm

I totally agree that the stipend needs to be paid. I don’t see how, after the stipend is paid, the HF & AP can not work out an agreement. We don’t add unlimited texting to our mobile plan, but the AP can pay us monthly to add it if she wants. This is not withholding her stipend, this is her reimbursing us (her HF) for something extra they provided. The same idea can not be against rules when it comes to vacation. The HF & AP could agree to different things and it would have absolutely nothing to do with withholding a stipend. The HF could say that it will cost $500 to get back up childcare for the week so if the AP wanted the week she could reimburse the HF. Alternatively, she could work the week and decide $500 is too much. Maybe the HF is feeling generous and only asks her to cover $100 of the extra costs to take the week. The costs are the stipend, plus the agency fee, so adding say $500 for the week, the HF could be out about $850 for one week of childcare. I agree the HF can not withhold the stipend. I just don’t agree that the choice is NO extra vacation or paid fully for extra vacation. That is not right and not enforceable.

HRHM January 31, 2012 at 6:57 pm

When you put it that way, it really puts it into perspective – could you imagine ANY AP willingly giving me back her week’s stipend PLUS 250 to cover the 450 it would cost to hire a short term Nanny for a week? I guess that’s one sure fire way to discourage APs from asking for extra weeks off! LOL

Should be working January 31, 2012 at 7:19 pm

I thought AnonMom’s suggestion, on the other hand, is totally viable and helpful. I can imagine that the net result that corresponds to unpaid vacation could be produced (with a reasonable AP) if the HM were to say, “I’d like to give you that extra week of vacation off, but would you be willing to consider subsidizing the cost of the babysitting I will be using? $200 would be enough to help me get the babysitter so you can go away.” And if the AP agrees, then it is agreed that the AP freely will give the HM $200. Which happens to be the same as the AP’s stipend for the time the AP is gone. The HF could also request less than that. I suppose the HF could (as AnonMom does) ask for more than the pocket money–which shows precisely that this is not an arrangement for “unpaid vacation” but rather a free negotiation where APs might be willing to contribute some money (presumably from what they have received as stipend) in order to make it possible for the HF to give them extra vacation.

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