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Should I expect an au pair to look after sick children?

(28 Posts)
Woolfiemum Sun 27-Jan-13 11:10:57

Am I being unreasonable? My husband and I both work full time and our au pair works 4 - 5 hours a day, dropping the children at school and then picking up and looking after until around 6 each evening.

Last week 2 of the children were ill, on different days, and we asked if she would look after them during the day for the hours when my husband couldn't (he works from home but I'm in a pressured office environment where it's really frowned upon to take time off)

We felt on the one hand, the children come first so her language school was a lower priority (she didn't want to miss lessons), and we checked with her that she would not lose any money as she would be able to make up the sessions at a later stage - she said that wasn't a problem.

She was clearly unwilling but she did miss the sessions to look after the kids and I feel really conflicted about it... were we unreasonable?

They will almost certainly need another day or two off school. Should I take leave? On the one hand I really feel I should, especially if they are both off ill; as their mum it's important that I'm there for them. Plus I don't want to alienate the au pair to the extent that she leaves!!

Any advice about usual protocol gratefully received

Lonecatwithkitten Sun 27-Jan-13 12:51:07

I had this covered in my contracts and provided additional pay in these circumstances.

fraktion Sun 27-Jan-13 13:04:45

No it's not reasonable or normal to expect it. She is here to take language lessons and improve her English, not primarily to take care of the children or be 24hr back up care for you. If you want that level of cover you have to pay for it and that's nanny territory. It's also likely that she didn't have the confidence or experience to handle sick children.

In short, yes you should take leave or pay a temp emergency nanny seeing as she's unwilling. Another AP might be ok with it but unless you've spelt it out very clearly in correspondence and the contract it isn't reasonable to insist.

Many people do ask their au pairs and pay an additional amount as overtime, which is often around minimum wage per hour, and puts you into operating PAYE territory.

Speaking as an ex EFL teacher missing a session, even if she can make it up, might be the difference between understanding a fundamental concept and bedding in a serious error, especially if they're in the middle of something tricky. The teacher will continue with the series of lessons and your AP will have to do extra to catch up. It's not necessarily a question of money.

ReetPetit Sun 27-Jan-13 14:47:38

sorry but i dont think it is reasonable to expect any paid childcarer to care for a sick child (or two)
i understand nannies do this but nurseries/schools wouldnt and neither would cms.
it was unreasonable imo to expect her to miss a language class - particilarly as your husband works from home anyway.
i do hope you paid her extra op!!

Lostonthemoors Sun 27-Jan-13 15:05:14

I would expect it to be done by a good ap as part of being a flexible help to the host family. My ap would be disappointed at missing the lesson, but would definitely offer - she wouldn't wait to be asked.

In return we would obviously reduce other tasks so she was doing less than usual in other areas - ie I would say no need to do cleaning etc that week. We would also add extra money to that week.

Lostonthemoors Sun 27-Jan-13 15:06:18

Just to add, would also depend how unwell. If just in bed, resting and recovering I would expect ap to cope. If throwing up, temp etc that is obvious parental care territory to me.

tiggersreturn Sun 27-Jan-13 15:07:58

Providing you spell it out clearly in your contract and expectations and have appropriate recompense I don't think this is a problem. I use my au pair as potential back up if my nanny is sick but would not leave her alone to do this i.e. I'd work from home and have her look after my younger ones.

It depends on how long she's been with you though as it may be a lot more difficult if the children are unfamiliar with her.

All the aps I know of like this sort of option as it means extra cash. The amount of money per week that you have to pay before NI kicks in is £107 but for Paye it's £156 www.hmrc.gov.uk/paye/rates-thresholds.htm

AntimonySalts Sun 27-Jan-13 15:12:02

I don't have an au pair, so don't know the etiquette. But I'm a bit confused by your contradictory statements.

'We felt on the one hand, the children come first'

and

'Should I take leave? On the one hand I really feel I should, especially if they are both off ill; as their mum it's important that I'm there for them.'

Either they do come first, or they don't. If they do, surely you take leave?

Woolfiemum Sun 27-Jan-13 16:05:45

Thanks so much for all the opinions; it's really interesting to see that it is clearly dividing people.

To clarify, yes we offered to pay her for the extra hours she'd be covering, and she accepted. We didn't have an official contract at the start as we went through a website, and perhaps this is a problem - we didn't want there to be any grey areas but inevitably there are!

fraktion Sun 27-Jan-13 16:15:44

It's a big problem not having a contract, both in terms of the relationship and also employment law.

Her unwillingness could be any number of things and if she wasn't expecting it then IMO it's unreasonable to expect or insist on something you haven't made part of the job description.

Blondeshavemorefun Sun 27-Jan-13 17:58:02

yes this should be covered in a contract, what if the children are sick does the ap look after them/get extra money etc

but first you need a contract, so sort one asap

personally i think an ap could help out and look after sick children, but obv depends what is wrong with them

you say they will need another day or two off school - what is the illness?

but regards to what reetpetit said apart from nursery/cms as they look after lots of children from different famillies so different, chuldcarers are there to help/care for sick children - they take the good with the bad iyswim

and yes if your dh worked from home couldnt he kept an ear/eye on them, assuming over 5 as at school so quite capable of being quiet when dh was on the phone on an important call

ZooAnimals Sun 27-Jan-13 18:01:42

You need a contract. It should then be clear to you what her contracted hours of work are e.g. 7am-9am and 3pm-6pm.

YABU to expect anything outside of this and YABU to expect her to change her plans at very short notice just as your boss would be unreasonable to expect you to come in on Saturday and miss your pre-planned activities.

It's fine to ask her if she'd like to work the extra hours for extra pay, but if she doesn't want to then you need to accept that and find alternative childcare.

'We felt on the one hand, the children come first so her language school was a lower priority'

hmm So 'the children come first' for the au pair, but not for you or your DH?

Woolfiemum Sun 27-Jan-13 20:57:01

ooh that sounds a bit harsh but I guess I deserve it. It's all connected to the guilt of working full time and trying to be the professional person on the one hand, and having home running smoothly on the other.

Obviously children DO come first, but there is the argument that - so long as she is happy to accomodate the change in plans - it makes more sense for her to do the extra hours as her role within our household is to look after the children whilst we are working.

Her spare time each day, which is considerable as the children are all at school, can be used as she pleases obviously - and she has chosen to go to language school. We chose to have an au pair so she could be the carer for the children when we were at work - so on that basis she is our first port of call when there is a childcare issue.

My husband is coming in for a bit of criticism... he does help out when he can but although nominally working from home is actually out a lot of the time so can't be relied upon to be there.

Point taken about the contract, is there a generic contract which can easily be got hold of when you enter into this kind of relationship without an agency?
Thanks again for all comments

Lostonthemoors Sun 27-Jan-13 21:03:08

Just asked my ap to get her thoughts. Her answer is:

As an ap she would want to help the family out, so if this situation happened she would always offer to miss language school and care for the kids. She wouldn't wait to be asked.

BUT she wouldn't do it if the host parents were in other respects playing fast and loose with the contract all the time, eg demanding babysitting often at the last minute or generally being inconsiderate. She says it's a goodwill thing.

Woolfiemum Sun 27-Jan-13 22:32:39

That's really interesting... it's I think what my best case scenario was. I was doubting whether I was being reasonable, but I think it comes down to communication, trust and clarity - absolutely agree that worst situation is if the host family start being demanding and there isn't a sense of mutual trust and goodwill

fraktion Mon 28-Jan-13 12:16:47

You're best adapting a nanny contract like the ANA one on Nannyjob

whyno Mon 28-Jan-13 13:48:27

Agree with what Lost said. She's not an employee and it's not covered by contract because she's supposed to be a member of the family. I would expect whichever member of the family could get out of their commitments most easily, be it you, her or your husband, to do the childcare. So if it's her, then it's her. IMO that's exactly what au pairs are there for. To do their own thing 99 per cent of the time but to provide back up childcare in an emergency.

ZooAnimals Mon 28-Jan-13 13:54:12

That may be your opinion whyno, unfortunately it has no basis in fact.

She is an employee.

She should be covered by a contract.

She should not be expected to treat the children as her own and cancel her plans if they are sick, that is the responsibility of the parents.

Au pairs do not 'do their own thing' 99% of the time, they work set hours, do set duties and get paid a set amount.

Strix Mon 28-Jan-13 14:01:06

I think this expctation is fine if -- and only if -- it is discussed and agreed at the start of employement. Our au pair would definitely do this.

However, we have discussed the possibility of her staying with us for longer (beyond the initially agreed one year) and she is thinking about going to Uni. She said that she'd like to stay but she might need for us to organise her work hours around her Uni classes, which I said would be fine. We can just get a childminder for those hours (as we do now). So, in that case, I would expect her uni to come first.

Fillybuster Mon 28-Jan-13 14:02:22

Woolfiemum I'm going to buck the trend on here....

We have an aupair - we previously had a nanny, but now all 3 dcs are in school/nursery full time - and this is something I discuss with them over skype at 'interview' stage.

We haven't had a contract with any of them (on our 3rd now) - dh is a solicitor and has pointed out that any contract is pretty much unenforceable (if a 19 yr old wants to leave, they will....!) plus its all about being part of the household and generally making the relationship work based on positive interactions, not a piece of paper.

I explain to each of my aupairs that as much as I want them to go to language school etc, it is important that they understand that they are coming to live in our family (from our pov) because we need the help, and because neither I nor dh can be around during the day. So that means that I will need them to cover the care if a child is ill, or the school shuts early for any reason (as with recent snow days) or during school holidays. I don't offer to pay more for covering illness/emergencies....that's what they are there for. I also wouldn't 'dock' their pay (or food, board etc) if they were ill - we are supposed to help each other out!

Admittedly, I do pay my aupairs more during school holidays when they are doing much longer hours, but I tend to keep this unspecified (an extra £20 or so to say thanks at the end of a long week) rather than x amount per hour.

we are now on our 3rd year of aupairs, with 3 great relationships with lovely girls (the previous 2 skype and write to us regularly), so this really hasn't caused us any problems.

whyno Mon 28-Jan-13 14:55:38

Au pairs are not employees ZooAnimals, or not according to https://www.gov.uk/au-pairs-employment-law and the Au Pair agency I met mine through.

whyno Mon 28-Jan-13 14:56:20

Sorry, rubbish linking, will try again. Should be https://www.gov.uk/au-pairs-employment-law

Blondeshavemorefun Mon 28-Jan-13 15:17:29

filly very surprised your dh advises against a contract -would have thought he would have known better

yes as you say a bit of paper willnot stop someone leaving, but it had rules/guidelines to hours/wages/holiday/duties etc

surely a MUST for everyone so they know what is happening as in black and white

and again if your ap have to work more hours due to snow/illness etc then surely they should be paid

OP what was/is wrong with your children to keep them off school?

Strix Mon 28-Jan-13 15:20:53

i think that as the au pair visa is a thing of the past and most of today's "au pairs" are actually EU citizens with the same working rights as any other, they are increasingly regarded as employees. I guess there is a shade of grey, but I give mune a contract, holidays, etc. etc. etc. just like any other live-in employee.

My current au pair was delighted when she discovered at the end of her Christmas hols that they were paid.

I'm afraid I think changing an au pairs hours and not paying them for the extra work is a bit harsh, unless you pay unusually well to begin with and that covers it.

Fillybuster Mon 28-Jan-13 15:40:45

Just to be clear: I have a 3 page document which outlines expectations (roles, behaviours, hours, pay, leave etc) - but it isn't in any way an enforceable document.

As I said, its all about building the right relationships - an aupair isn't an employee, she is a lodger who is paying for their board in kind. IME its all about give and take: if my aupair needs a day off for an exam, or wants to leave early to go to the theatre then I will work from home, or get my MIL to cover or whatever else....and although she is 'on call' in school hols, I try to book camps, playdates etc to protect her sanity smile

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