Last week, a large storm was forecasted to hit our city on Thursday early morning, long before any of us (without young children lurking in the night!) were to be awake. The DOE cancelled schools the night before, and many business followed suit. That morning, we woke up to high winds, unplowed streets and sidewalks, and widespread subway schedule changes, which lead to massive delays. Many parents were asking each other if they should tell their employee to stay home. And after the decision was made, several nannies and housekeepers were asking each other if it was normal for their pay to be docked for that day.
What a tricky situation! I myself was in a similar situation as a nanny during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Here are my thoughts for employers and for employees on how to approach this extraordinary instance. Misunderstandings like this can often lead to bitterness and so it's important to address them head on.
For Employers (families)
First, a snow day school cancellation really throws a wrench into your daily plans as a parent, and likely into your employee's day too. Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself and comments I have heard, and then my personal suggestions about how to approach them.
1. Did your place of employment cancel work for the day, or will your employee's absence force you to take a vacation or sick day?
If the answer is no, I have to still go into work, consider what your day will look like. Is there a backup babysitter or family member you can call? Are you able to go into work later and come home earlier to allow your employee additional commute time? Is there any possibility that you could work from home? If there are no real solutions, you're really left with the choice to ask the nanny to come in or take a personal day for yourself. If it is a housekeeper, consider letting the work pile up, and perhaps ask your employee to work a couple addition hours to catch up, if the need arises.
2. "Well, my friend's nanny came in just fine, and mine could have too. . ."
Hindsight is 20/20. At 7:00am when you or your employee made the decision to cancel, the weather was much different than it was at 3pm.
Also bear in mind that Manhattan's busy sidewalks and streets are cleared much faster than the outer boroughs. For instance, from where I live in Flatbush, Brooklyn, a moderately busy area, many of my neighbors did not clear their sidewalks for 36 hours after the storm, and we did not see a plow until 11am the next day, well after the snow stopped falling. Simply because a friend's nanny came in from Brooklyn does not mean that your housekeeper would have been able to do the same, unless they lived on the same block.
If your employee has to take a bus to a train, this could have easily doubled or even tripled the commute. As frustrating as it may be for you to have to take over for the full day, your employee could have been facing an even more frustrating situation getting to and from work. If your employee made the decision to stay home, respect it. First of all, it is done. Second, remember that he or she may have their own children to attend to. Perhaps they aren't from New York and were fearful of getting injured from a slippery fall.
If this is really making you question your employee's integrity, it is a sign of a bigger issue of mistrust in your own mind. Look a bit deeper as to why you feel angry at her or him for not coming into work. Do you feel like they are just not making an effort anymore? Do you think they are a lazy person? It's crucial to discuss these feelings with a friend first, and look at the things they do that will prove you wrong. If you can think of loads of reasons to support your feeling, discuss this with them. Cite the specific ways they must improve their job performance.
3. . . . and so I'm going to dock her pay.
I understand the mentality here. Domestic employees are not salaried -- they are hourly employees and are paid an hourly rate plus overtime, so why would this work both ways in their favor? For a couple of reasons...
First, if you instructed your employee to not come in and did not inform him or her that they would not be paid for the day, there is no reason for them to believe you would be changing their weekly rate, and you should pay them. They did not request the day off, but it was instead offered without a known string attached.
Second, please remember that your employee relies on this income and does not have a back up for other work. It's similar to when you choose to take a vacation for a week: the caregiver is still depending on money and did not ask for an unpaid vacation herself. This employee will also feel blindsided. While it was likely just an oversight on your end, address your expectations going forward after you pay them for the day.
4. What if I don't want to pay my nanny for the day off because I had to pay for back up care so I could get myself to work (or because I just don't think it's right)?
In this situation, seek "Win,Win." If the additional $150 or so is monumental to you, suggest for the nanny to make up the hours. That way, your employee can still make the money he or she needs, you can get a night out, and the relationship isn't embittered over something small in the grand scheme of things. Everyone wins! If the day of pay isn't a big sacrifice to you financially, pay your nanny and take it as a lesson to be clearer with your expectations going forward in these rare instances before you make an insistence or offer.
The bottom line is that for the sake of your children, home, and sanity, a relationship that is respectful, healthy, open, and communicative is best. The number one reason I personally see employee-employer relationships fall completely apart, leading to resignation or termination, is that the expectations are either one-sided, mismatched, or not discussed, and bitterness sets in and poisons the partnership. We want to avoid that altogether! Little issues like this really are important to address.
For Employees (nannies and housekeepers)
If you're like any of my friends, it doesn't matter what your career is, the thought of a snow day on Thursday excited you! Here are few scenarios and how to best approach them if you're still conflicted about how the day was handled.
1. My boss was home all day. Why did I even come in?
2. I was told not to come in, but now I see the my paycheck is less than it is every week. My boss didn't tell me I wouldn't be paid and now I'm out a lot of money!
If this happened to you, you either need to let it go without resentment, or speak up immediately. Chances are, your boss wasn't being malicious. Since nannies are legally hourly employees (meaning, for every hour you work, you are paid) instead of salaried (meaning a flat rate paid for unlimited hours), your boss has every right not to pay you. However, you must bring this up with your boss if you rely on a set number every week to meet your bills.
Some nannies call these set hours a, "steady or guaranteed salary," meaning regardless if your boss goes on vacation or tells you not to come in, this is the minimum you are assured to make. Being a household employee, you reserve your time each week for them and do not leave your options open to other work; it's only fair that you can rely on them as well. No need to state anything personal or financial; no need to give your reasons. Simply explain that since you did not request the day off, and you were not told that your pay would be docked, you were not expected to be short on what was normal. Often just by communicating this, a parent will realize the miscommunication and pay you. It may not be. Simply ask, "How can we come up with a solution together?" This is respectful to your relationship with your employer because you're communicating a small issue without allowing it to bubble up, and doing so in a manner that shows you desire to work together.
If your employer does not offer to pay you for the day and you really need the money, offer to work a date night, if your schedule allows, so that you can make up the gap in pay. Also state the importance of clear communication before something is offered. This is a great time to discuss being paid a guaranteed/steady salary 52 weeks out of the year. Chances are if this is the first time your employer has told you not to come in and has not paid you, it won't be the last, so it is crucial to clarify your expectations, as they may be unaware of what yours are.
3. I had to come in but it was a total mess outside. I don't understand why my boss didn't just tell me to stay home like all the other nannies.
If it still wasn't clear to you why they had you come in, you may be feeling undervalued in your position, which is a sure sign that things are wrong in your professional relationship. It is best to gather your thoughts and maturely discuss your concerns with them. If you had your own child's care to arrange because of their school's snow day, express that to them. Remind them that you have your own obligations and home to take care of in the middle of a storm, and that while you are willing to bend over backward for them, you'd also appreciate some grace and understanding shown to you as well.
The bottom line is that for the sake of your job satisfaction, personal life, and sanity, a relationship that is respectful, healthy, open, and communicative is best. The number one reason I see employee-employer relationships fall completely apart, leading to resignation or termination, is that the expectations are either one-sided, mismatched, or not discussed, and bitterness sets in and poisons the partnership. We want to avoid that altogether! Little issues like this really are important to address.
Have a question or topic you'd like covered on our blog? Send it on over to Christa at Hello@KithAndKinNYC.com
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