Au Pairs Working Overtime.

Hello Dear Readers!

It is yet another Monday, and I feel inspired to continue talking about what au pairs and host families do not expect of each other in an au pair arrangement. Last time we exposed an undesirable character trait present among a minority of au pairs: Au pair Princess behaviour. So today, let us do the same with host families.

Today’s chat is on au pairs working overtime. More specifically, it concerns au pairs who find themselves working overtime on a regular basis. A recent post by CV Harquail, a person who runs an American au pair-host family related blog (, generated mixed reactions from au pair host parents, au pairs, former au pairs and persons directly or indirectly familiar with the au pair- host family world.

The post in question titled, “Extra Hours: What’s fair pay when you break this taboo?” was a response to one US based host father’s enquiry on what would constitute fair pay for his au pair, who has been working overtime (52 to 55 hours a week).
Of course, this host father explained that when interviewing

prospective au pairs, we discussed our longer work week and also discussed how we would compensate her monetarily for this. We also discussed what other ‘perks’ we would offer an Au Pair – things such as:

* Full car use on weekends
* Her own private bathroom and tv room (for the most part)
* Cell phone and texting plan
* A computer for her use only
* Almost never having to work weekends (unless she was off a bit during the week – and we always try to clear this with her first)
* Only one really sweet baby to watch — our now 10 month old daughter, who lucky for all of us is an angel, never crying, fussing, etc. Compared to the many au pairs we know who are in charge of two or three hyperactive 6-10 year olds, our one baby seems to be easier work

It is worth noting that the maximum number of weekly hours that an au pair is legally allowed to work varies from one country to another. For example, in France the upper limit is 30 hours/ week; Germany:30 hours/week; Belgium: 20hours/ week; Australia:35 hours/ week; Denmark: 30 hours/ week; USA: 45 hours/ week. Yes, you probably noticed that the higher weekly limit is already highest in the US.

From her line of argument, CV Harquail, appeared to be in favour of the practice and went as far as to suggest different ways in which au pair host parents (who cross the overtime line) can somewhat ensure that their au pairs’ overtime work remains fair: “Best practices for asking your au pair to work overtime”. Put differently : How can au pair host parents ensure that they engage in ethical cheating when it comes to overworking their au pairs?
Also, there was an overwhelming response from host parents, many of whom were from the US, and who were OK with asking their au pairs to work overtime, on a regular basis. Sadly, only a few au pairs expressed their opinions.
With most host parents’ lines of argument being: “au pairs are happy when you ask them to work overtime since they get to earn some extra cash” and “It is OK to ask the au pair to work extra hours if in exchange we offer her material comforts”, I felt the need to express my opinion, which is situated on the crossroads of currently being a parent and having lived and worked as an au pair in a previous life. As you can tell from the post, I was REALLY into it and missed out a few typos :-)

Tulai- February 28, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Currently a mother and au pair in a former life, I think having an au pair look after your children overtime on a REGULAR basis, is plain and simply unethical (not to mention a violation of legal regulations).
Many parents here and elsewhere put forth a number of arguments to justify this behaviour :

1. “we compensate her financially”, “we buy her gifts”…
Some parents are justifying the extra hours by claiming that au pairs are always eager to make extra money and gladly welcome the overtime hours. What I wish to point out in relation to this is that firstly, it is wrong to generalize across au pairs. Like anyone else, au pairs have different personal and different family backgrounds; some are socially privileged, others are not, or much less. Some have dependants in their home countries, some are financially independent, while others still depend and can count on the financial support of their parents and families in their home countries. Some are extroverted, others are introverted. Some enjoy going out regularly, others prefer to stay in. Some are ambitious, others are not… But the baseline here is, nobody, no au pair I know or knew is/was thrilled to have his or her host family overwork her in exchange for money and other material perks. Quite the contrary: they complain(ed), because they were exhausted and it deprived them of opportunities that were meant to be part of the cultural exchange – free time and leisure activities attending language class, interacting with fellow au pairs or other people, beyond the family… Secondly, let us not forget that as in any employer employee host- hosted relation a POWER RELATION exists between the host family/ parents and the au- pair, and this no matter how free you are with your au pair and no matter how much you effort you put in to make her “feel at home.

2. “she has access to a fully fuelled car”, “she has a nice room and bathroom to herself, a computer and full time internet access, and TV in her room”,
In the part of the world that you and I live in, having a TV, a computer and internet access in our homes has become banal; there’s nothing super exceptional about it. If you can afford to hire an au pair, a nanny, a live in house help etc, then it goes without arguing that you are expected to provide a decent room for your au pair . That she has her personal bathroom, TV, and computer is fine, but not absolutely indispensable. And let’s face it, in as much as it is convenient for her to have private access to these commonly shared household spaces and facilities, it is also convenient for the parents and the family.
Moreover, what is the use of offering her all these when she hardly has the time and energy to enjoy them??

3. “Only one really sweet baby to watch — our now 10 month old daughter, who lucky for all of us is an angel, never crying, fussing”

That your child or children are the easiest and the most fuss-free to look after in the entire world, does not in anyway justify you regularly overworking your au pair. As Anon-y-Mom and others have pointed out, having your au pair look after your child or children for so many hours a day is not good for any of the persons involved. Not for her, not for your child, and not for you.
An au pair is expected to have a cultural exchange which involves meeting people beyond her host family and beyond the confines of her working hours, interacting with other au pairs. Working for over 45 hrs a week barely leaves her the energy and time for that! Memories of my exhaustion as an au pair are still fresh: and I was not an abused au pair, since I worked 30-35 hours a week. But I can still remember how exhausted I was after 5-6 hours of looking after three children aged below 5 years. I can only imagine what those overworked au pairs are going through! Needless to say, the quality of child care offered by an exhausted and overworked au pair, always takes the downward direction.

It is my opinion, (one that is shared by many au pairs and former au pairs I know) that : No, it is NOT OK to have au pairs work overtime on a regular basis in exchange for financial or material compensation, or whatever arguments you put forth.

An au pair is neither a nanny, nor a house helps. She should not be the one to carry our parental responsibilities. Her working hours and responsibilities assigned to her should reflect her au pair status.

Possible solutions could involve having two au pairs (as one parent here is doing ); employing a (full time/ part time ) nanny and an au pair; you and your spouse cutting back on your working hours etc.

Au pairs! What have been your experiences with working overtime?
Serve up your opinions!

One Response to “Au Pairs Working Overtime.”

  1. LC Says:

    Hello, I am an au pair and have been having more and more troubles with my family regarding working overtime. This is the first time that the family that I am staying with has had an au pair and this is also my first time as an au pair. Both parties did not really look into the rules too much. I am in France, where I am only supposed to be working 30 hours a week and I find that I am often working 40 hours or more. When the kids have a couple of days off work, I am the one looking after them. Often the parents won’t get home until late in the evening, which can leave me with another 7+ hour day. I find it ridiculous that they know I’m only supposed to work 30 hours a week and yet they have never offered to compensate me for the extra time I have given up. They don’t even ask me if I can, rather they just let me know their schedules and expect me to do it. I’m not the kind of person to complain or ask for things, but I feel so taken advantage of and really don’t know what to do anymore.