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.
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.