Nanny Feels Penalized for Family's Vacation

Received Monday, October 19, 2009
Perspective and Opinion on ISYN I am an American aupair working in a very expensive European country. By law, all employees must receive at least four weeks (normally five or six) paid weeks vacation time, regardless of their profession. Both of my employers work, and both receive five weeks. In my contract, it states I receive five weeks as well. Children here are on year-round school schedule, and generally have two weeks off in the fall, two weeks at Christmas, two weeks in the springs, and around four weeks during summer. So, having worked as an aupair for another family, I anticipated planning my vacation time around the children's, as most families go somewhere, every break, for one week. The aupair is then expected to work the second week. Fine. No problem at all.

So here is my problem. When I arrived, two months ago, I told told my employer, the father, that I planned to take my five weeks vacation spread out, exactly as the kids had their vacation. He said that was fine. And the first vacation week I was planning on taking was Oct 9-16 (as the father was taking the kids out of the country this week), which would have been the second week of the kids' vacation, and I was to work the first week because they would be out of school.

Well, the mother decided she wanted to take the kids out of school a week and a half early to go to her home country with the children. So I have been off from September 26 until today, October 18th, when I only asked to have off one week. I do not live with the family, but do rely on eating with them everyday (as I am an aupair and do not make much money), and only budgeted to have to buy my own food during the time that I asked for off. So, consequently, I had to spend $200+ on food while they were away. That sounds like a lot in US dollars, I know, so please do not say I could have eaten for less. The country I am living in is 2-3x more expensive than the US, and I only make the equivalent of $800 a month.

I met with the father today, and he said to me, "This doesn't matter to me either way, but do you want to use your vacation time for all the time you have been off, or shall we just put it down as hours that you owe?" This has really been bothering because I feel like I am being penalized for their decision to take the kids out of school early, and leave for 3 weeks. I was not given a choice as to whether or not I wanted to accompany them to work, so I do not feel as though I should have to make up the hours or use my vacation time. Who chooses to use 3 out of 5 weeks in October?? And the fact that I had to pay living costs while they were away also plays into this.

It was also my birthday during this time, and I didn't receive a phone call or an email or anything. I know in most jobs you would not expect to; however, as an aupair, I am supposed to be viewed as "one of the family", so it hurts that they didn't even acknowledge it.

What do you guys think? I would like to sit down with the father this week, but I want to be able to with confidence because he is not the nicest man I have ever met, and he is quite stingy, and can be very unreasonable. I know this site is supposed to be for nannies and nanny issues, but thank you for your advice.


Manhattan Nanny said...

I feel badly for you, it seems you are in a foreign country and dependent on a family that is taking advantage of you.
You need to get advice, and possibly intervention from the agency that placed you. Then you should ask for a sit down with BOTH employers, and set your vacation schedule for the remainder of the year.
I don't understand how you can be considered an au pair if you don't live with the family. In the states if a family goes away without the au pair, they are still responsible for her food, but different countries mean different customs, so talk to your agency.

CuriousDad said...

You need to talk to the agency that sent you over there. If there is no agency. Try and find an aup pair site for the country you are in that can help you. Good luck!

Lauren said...

Manhattan Nanny- just fyi, in a lot of European countries, the au pair arrangement is much different than in the states. You don't have to go through an agency in many countries, nor do you necessarily have to always live with the family, although in most cases you do.

OP- You are being treated completely unfairly. I am an American au pair in Scandinavia, so I can relate to you about the food costs. I would not be able to survive here if I was paying for my own living expenses while making so little money, and you should not be asked to do so. The vacation thing is just INSANE. These parents know exactly what they are doing to you and they're hoping you will be passive enough to go along with it.

In the country I'm in, the family and the au pair each sign an agreement. The terms are set by the government, and the family fills in the blanks before you sign it (the blanks being things like, what is a typical day's work; what chores will you be responsible for, etc.). Both parties are allowed to give one months notice if they end up being unhappy with the arrangement. OP, I hope you at least have something like this that will allow you to get out as soon as possible! I don't think it would be incredibly hard to just find a new family to work for. is a good starting place. Good luck!

SickNanny said...

I would say it is unfair for you to have to make up any unplanned days that the family chose to take vacation, OR to have to sacrifice that time as you vacation time.

This has been a very difficult issue for me as an American nanny working for a family from another country. I think sometimes different cultures view these policies differently.

All in all, I do think you have the right to speak up. Cheap families NEVER get more generous unless you demand it.

I am sorry you have to be in this spot and deal with this. : (

europeanmom said...

There is usually an agreement about food costs. In my country agencies make it very clear to the family that they should be responsible for your food. If they will not buy it for you they should give you extra money for it. Oh, and I assume that you are being paid during the time that they are off?

Huh... said...

Huh? Who? What? I can't even follow what you're telling us.

Village said...

I agree that your employers are taking advantage of you. They are your employers, and have no obligation to celebrate your birthday. However, they don't have the right to abuse your services, which is what they are doing. If they are doing it now so soon in the employment, you can be assured they will do it more and more the longer you are with them. They may be setting you up to work during the holidays. You have no choice, IMHO, than to find a new family that is willing to follow the rules and customs, and be fair and honest with you. Good Luck.

a said...

Hmm, I was an au pair in a European country. Which country are you au pairing in?

Regarding the au pair programme:

i) Your food is provided for (yes, even if they're on holiday and you're home! Food isn't provided if you choose to eat out or on holiday without the family)

ii) If the family chooses to take more than 5 weeks off, that's their problem and will still need to pay you. If you want to take more 5 weeks off a year, you can forgo payment.

alex said...

I am so sorry! I think you need to stand up for yourself. If you did go through an agency talk to them but if not I would talk to the father and explain how you feel. It was not your choice to have the kids gone three weeks, it was theirs.

Did they pay you during that time? Is that why the dad asked if it was timed owed? I mean, if you had to do one or the other I would make sure you got paid for that and then do time owed but I think it should not be your fault they left without you. I actually think they should pay you for it because it was their decision.

Is $800 monthly the normal au pair salary? I feel like they should be paying you more if the country is so expensive.

Rebecca said...

Whatever you do, make sure you are above reproach when you talk to the father. Be as kind as possible, and use "I" statements so as not to put him on the defensive ("I understand that you took a vacation, but we agreed on my vacation time and I feel that I should not be penalized when I'm available to be working, whether or not my services are being used.") Try to go into it in a positive frame of mind - assume that he means well and isn't trying to stiff you, and that maybe he's really just clueless as to the position you're in (I know it seems crazy, but sometimes people really just don't get it until you point it out). That may not be true, but if you go into it with a positive attitude you're less likely to make him feel like he needs to go on the defensive.

In any case, DON'T let this slide. You're absolutely in the right here, so be confident in that.

AudioCapture said...

I'm with most of the comments on this one, I suggest standing your ground and going with your gut feeling. There are other people out there who would jump at the opportunity.