Returning to work in the age of COVID-19 requires that nannies and families consider and address matters that they have never had to in the past. The following are questions we are hearing over and over again from the families HWS works with, and some thoughts.
We are moving in to uncharted territory. HWS reminds families and nannies that communication should be clear, expectations explicit, and feedback given frequently. Openly addressing protocols for visitors, outings, social distancing and housekeeping will establish a sense of trust that the nanny's and family's health and safety are mutual top priorities.
The prevailing theme of all of the advice on handling these challenges is "Communication is Key" and mutual respect for each other's personal health and safety.
Q. Can I ask my nanny to limit her social circle?
A. Legally, your nanny's life in her off hours is not within your control. Realistically, you and your nanny can have a conversation about how many people and group situations both of you are engaging in outside of work. Mutuality is important. Asking your nanny to limit her travel to essential commuting, grocery shopping, etc. and her personal interactions to her family and yours is not unreasonable so long as you are willing to do the same for her safety. Your nanny is NOT required to agree, and if you mutually agree that either party's opinion on this matter is not consistent with the safety concerns of the other, you will have no other option but to separate the nanny from your employment. This is not a separation for CAUSE, so your nanny can and should apply for unemployment benefits while seeking another job.
Q. Can I voice my concerns that my nanny lives with her sister, who is a nurse and might be exposed to COVID-19?
A. Clear communication between your family and your nanny is important. Your nanny's living situation is what it is. In all likelihood your nanny's sister is more, not less, attuned to high levels of personal hygiene and goes above and beyond with her personal health protection. And realistically, not all RN's come into contact with COVID-19 patients. As doctors offices and surgical centers reopen, they are going to great lengths to insure the health and safety of patients and medical staff. Have a conversation by all means. Ask questions about what steps the sister is taking to protect herself and your nanny. Just like the prior question, if this circumstance, which is beyond your nanny's control and existed prior to the current pandemic, is a deal breaker for you, your alternative is to separate the nanny from your employment and insure that she understands the unemployment benefits she is entitled to.
Q. Can I require my nanny to live in our home?
A. No. You can however ask. You can ask with an inducement - a temporary stipend for the nanny's flexibility is a consideration. Be sensitive to your nanny's own personal situation. Many, many nannies have their own families to return to every day - spouses, their own children, elderly parents. Many of your nanny's family members depend on her presence, making this an untenable situation for her to consider. As with all of these questions, if you cannot both become comfortable with the situation, ending the employment relationship is inevitable.
Q. What do I do if my nanny would rather stay home and collect unemployment benefits because she is getting more money right now?
A. Unfortunately there really is not anything you can do about this. The additional $600 a week stipend on unemployment will run out at the end of July 2020 unless extended by Congress with additional funding. Fortunately there are many qualified nannies whose jobs have permanently ended for one reason or the other, and recruiting and hiring a replacement should be easier than usual.
Q. What do I do if I will only need my nanny part time in the future?
A. A change of status from full time to part time is a qualifying event for the nanny to file an unemployment claim. She may either choose to continue working for your part time and collecting partial benefits, or claim constructive dismissal and cease working for you all together.
If your nanny agrees to stay on a permanent part time basis, be aware that part time work carries a premium. Generally speaking a permanent part time nanny earns 10-20% per hour more than a comparably situated full time nanny. Do consider a pay rate adjustment if you are fortunate enough to make this arrangement work.
Q. What are some housekeeping modifications and practices we can implement to demonstrate mutual respect for each other's health and safety?
A. Many families are considering:
- Shoes left at door;
- Hands washed and cell phones sanitized prior to any interaction with parents or children. Ditto when mom and dad return from work.
- Increased disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces - door knobs, faucets, appliance handles, etc.
- Changing from non-chemical cleaners to stronger disinfectants that kill the coronavirus. The CDC publishes good information about this.
Q. Can I ask my nanny to supervise and assist with my child's school work? Do I need to adjust my nanny's pay since my 1st grader is home all day now with his younger sister?
A. Closing of schools and distance learning protocols replacing in person instruction create their own new set of challenges for families and nannies alike. Many nannies were educated abroad, and are not familiar with elementary education in the US. Do consider the experience and capabilities of your nanny when you are considering this question. It certainly is proper to adjust her job expectations; clear communication on expectations is key. It is advisable to relook all job responsibilities right now and consider which you can temporarily remove from her to do list every week in light of the significant time suck the home schooling imposes. Also consider how YOU are challenged to balance your 1st graders home school and your toddler's needs and recognize it is no less challenging for your nanny. A temporary pay increase or weekly stipend that recognizes this additional work is appreciated and a smart idea.
Q. I am going back to work but my hours are being changed to maintain safe social distancing in the office. How do we handle this?
A. Offices and other businesses are likely to stagger hours as businesses slowly reopen which will impact nanny schedules. Employers are likely to implement hybrid report to office : work remotely schedules to lessen density, so nanny and parents will likely need to share a workspace at least part of the time.
The key to success here will be open communication and flexibility. Provide your nanny with as much information as possible on how changes to your relationship to your work will impact her. All parties need to keep expectations in check. You know small children cannot be quiet all of the time, and your nanny's options to take them outside the home are very limited. Talk to your employer and co-workers - perhaps you can get more hours in the office and another co-worker who has a better work environment at home less. Perhaps you can work 3 long days in the office and 2 shorter days at home. Adjustments are going to need to be made by all parties.
Q. I have to return to my work, and my nanny is happy to come back but must bring her 8 year old because of school closure. How does this work?
A. Many families allow their nanny's school aged children to come to work during school holidays and find this is a successful arrangement. As with all relationships, communication is the key to success.
Assuming that you are comfortable with your nanny's child coming with her, have a conversation about the logistics. Will the nanny be able to perform all of her routine tasks with another child in the home? (You might be pleasantly surprised, many elementary children thrive in an environment with pre-schoolers and become a big brother or sister.)
Will the nanny bring food for her child or will everyone eat from your pantry? Might the nanny be able to do other tasks that help both of you out. For example, prepare the evening meal for both families and take her family's share home? This is an opportunity to foster even more loyalty with your nanny, so long as you can all discuss and agree to the details, and keep lines of communication open to discuss and resolve any challenges.
The Elephants in the Room
There are going to be many families who find that their current nanny Is no longer a good fit for their family due to situations as discussed above and more we haven't touched on. Two points must be made and factored into your decision-making.
1. My Nanny Situation has been Off the Books.
This is a serious problem for the nanny who finds herself unemployed in a pandemic. She, like all displaced wage earners, will need an almost immediate source of replacement income, and unemployment insurance is there for that purpose. The burden of tax reporting and payment is on you, the employer, not your nanny. Should she file for benefits, YOU will be the party responsible for back tax reporting, tax payments, and you will be on the hook not just for employer taxes, but also the nanny's employment taxes you failed to collect, penalties and interest. It is best that you get this caught up on your own accord, and do not wait for the state's unemployment office to open an investigation.
2. My Nanny is Undocumented
Whether paid legally or not, the undocumented nanny is ineligible for unemployment benefits. Her job loss is devastating to her household. If this individual has been valuable to your family, you may consider some way you can keep her employed or partially employed until you can bring her back to her normal duties. Perhaps she can run errands and do grocery shopping? Clean and disinfect your home once or twice a week while you take your child out for a long walk, a hike, bike ride, or other (safe, socially distanced) activity. If none of this is possible, do be generous with severance and a glowing letter of recommendation.
What about when someone actually IS ill?
Nannies generally expect to be responsible for the care of a mildly ill child, Nannies are also expected to come to work when they have a head cold or other mild illness. This is one of the perquisites of having a nanny, their greater availability.
COVID-19 likely changes this. Your nanny is not going to know if your child has a head cold or the coronavirus, You are not going to know if your nanny's symptoms are benign or dangerous. What do you do? HWS recommends that you be generous with paid leave. Don't require that your nanny care for your ill child, and don't encourage her to hide her symptoms to avoid having her pay docked. And should one of the parents be ill, do allow your nanny to stay home with pay until there is a clear "all clear." Create an environment where there is clear care and mutual respect for the health and well-being of all parties.
Closing Thoughts on Returning to Work Post-COVID for Nanny Families
The adjustments we have all made to our routines in the last several months are staggering, and they are not over. Restrictions will slowly ease, and some may become cyclical as the virus ebbs and flows.
Remember, perception is reality and what your nanny perceives is what she will believe is happening. If you are asking her to restrict her social circle and you are meeting your family for Sunday Brunch every week, her perception may be that you place your family's health and well being above hers.
Transparency is essential for building trust. Relaxing your paid time off policies is one way to reduce the financial risk to the nanny of leveling with you about her potential symptoms. If you or a family member was ill, do advise of what the physician advises, and the results of any testing.
And lastly, common sense must prevail, grounding decision making in practical, sound judgement. Fear is real on all sides of this relationship. Practical precautions, open communication, and mutual trust are the keys to success in the relationship, and best protects the health of all involved.