Nanny Returning to Work in the Age of Covid-19

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 themes of all of the advice on handling these challenges is "Communication is Key" and maintain 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.