We all have a sense of what kinds of issues regularly present host parents & au pairs with relationships challenges — food, cars, late nights being chief among these. I’m becoming aware of a new category of challenges, centering on ‘Who pays for a mistake?’
We’ve had mistakes related to car damage, lost cell phones, hair-dye stained walls, and more… and here comes a mistake related to apparently illegal downloading.
Behind each of these ‘mistake’ challenges is the question of “Who was at fault?”:
- Should the host parents have warned the au pair? Should they have had something in their handbook?
- Could an agency have screened or trained for this issue to prevent it from happening?
- Should the au pair have inquired before s/he did something? Or, been quicker to make changes?
- Or, all of the above?
Here’s the specific situation:
I am an au pair from Düsseldorf, Germany. I live in my guest-family since December 2009 and on 29 October I go back home to Russia.
One story has happened to me recently and I don’t know with who can I consult. I have/had internet in my guest-family. I have downloaded movies there. I had no idea that in Germany it is forbidden to download movies and my guest-family did not warn me. Then we received a warning from Lawyer Office where stands that my guest-parents should pay for it.
My guest-parents have consulted with their lawyer and they have decided that they do not pay me money for September and last month October. Furthermore, they do not tell me what’s going on with this case.
I would like to ask You, what can I do? Do I have any rights? Can the guest-family exact such a fine from me? Could you please advise me something, because I do not know how should I behave.
Of course, if I knew that in Germany downloading is forbidden, I would have never done it.
I had a similar situation with our very first au pair, who racked up almost $900 in phone charges to a Psychic hotline. Yes, almost $900. To a Physic Hotline.
In one of my best shows of indignation and consumer advocacy, i wrote several scathing letters to the phone company and hotline company, explaining that she was under 18 (not true technically, but true socially), that she did not understand English, and thus that she couldn’t have entered into a valid contract with them. I also harangued them with complaints about their pricing structure: $1 for the first mine, $10 for every subsequent minute, and a policy of scheduling the next call at the end of the current one. it was a system designed for exploitation, that worked until I threatened them. We ended up paying nothing beyond the first $1.
in this Au Pair in Germany’s situation, at the very least her host parents need to discuss with her how to pay for the fines. They shouldn’t just take it out of her already earned salary– that’s punishment. Also, it might really put the au pair in a bad situation if she was expecting to have that money and needed it to return home.
Rather, they should arrange a payback schedule where some portion comes out of each weeks pay, that they au pair can plan for and agrees to. This would serve as compensation, not punishment, for the mistake.
Unfortunately, they are all running out of time– and I bet the Host Parents are thinking that they don’t want to be left holding the bill.
What do you all think this au pair can / should do?