More on Open and Respectful Communication

The answers you find here are intended to serve as suggested best practices for domestic employment, and have been crafted by Hand in Hand with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. They are designed to help you take steps toward creating a mutually beneficial domestic employment relationship—and help set a framework for conversations with the domestic worker(s) you employ. Please understand that these suggested best practices may differ based on the particular domestic employment relationship and that these possible best practices do not constitute legal advice.

 

What are some general tips to create a positive employment relationship?

  • It is important to pre-empt challenging dynamics by setting up clear, mutually-agreed upon expectations in the form of a work agreement, and a clear plan for regular check-in’s and formal, mutual evaluations.
  • Good Morning! It’s all in the details. Great ways to show respect and consideration include greeting your employee in the morning; returning home on time; asking about her family; paying her on schedule. Workers often cite issues like these as among the most important. And employers often fail to recognize the value of expressing gratitude for work well done. Make the effort to show your thanks on a daily basis.
  • Welcome all questions. Your employee needs to feel comfortable asking questions to get to know you and your priorities. Home environments are very specific to the personalities that inhabit them. What you consider an average household standard in the areas of cleanliness, noisiness, discipline, and diet may be new to the worker you employ. Let your employee know that you are available for answers.

Should I implement a trial period?

You may or may not feel the need for a trial period. You and/or the candidate may or may not be willing to take this time to more deeply explore the possibility of working together. But if both parties are willing, a trial period can be a very important step in the hiring process, as it will give both workers and employers a chance to assess their compatibility.

Any trial period, whether it’s as short as a few hours or as long as a week, should be paid, and the candidate should be compensated. Try to ensure that you give the candidate a brief but meaningful tour of your home, show her where important items are located, and tell her what your expectations are for this time. (Do you want her to handle all of the elements of the prospective job–housecleaning, for example, as well as attending/caretaking–or do you want her to use the trial period to focus primarily on building a relationship with you, your child, or your family member?)

What should I do if my employee is regularly late? Or I am?

Always remember that the best way to avoid this problem is to listen carefully to each other about your scheduling challenges and establish a written work agreement that is explicit about work hours and/or the need for time flexibility on each side. But as we all know, sometimes even a clear work agreement doesn’t prevent late arrivals.

If an employee’s lateness becomes an issue for you, it should be addressed as soon as possible, ideally in a regular weekly check-in meeting. Talking directly about the problem might help diffuse tension early on and give you the chance to both reiterate your needs as an employer and figure out a solution. Often, a worker’s commute, parking challenges, or family scheduling get in the way of promptness. Do your best to get to the root of the problem and brainstorm ideas for what might help. If punctuality continues to be a problem after repeat discussions, it could be that you and the worker are not a good fit.

If your lateness is a regular problem, make sure that you have compensated the worker for the extra time she has stayed. But remember: this isn’t a solution to the problem of repeatedly coming home later than you said you would. Even if a worker says, “no problem” when you ask her if it’s okay to be late, it often is a problem that can undermine your relationship. A worker can be uneasy about saying how she really feels, fearing that it could cause conflict or, in her mind, jeopardize her job.

What you can do: If you can’t guarantee arrival at the time you specified when you hired a worker, renegotiate the job. Return to your work agreement–written or verbal–modify it, and ask her if she can accept the new job terms. This clarity will go a long way toward sustaining good will in a domestic workplace.

What if I don’t go to work? Take a three-day vacation? What if my employee calls in sick?: How to handle last-minute cancellations.

Schedules change. Someone gets the flu. You plan a weekend away and suddenly decide to leave Friday morning to beat the traffic instead of Friday night. Makes sense. Here’s the thing, though: when you tell your employee that she gets to take Friday off, this will not be good news to her unless you pay her for the day. Remember, when she accepted the job, she committed her time to you and your family. Her weekly budget depends on the pay you guaranteed her up front. She can’t pick up another job for the day to make up the difference. If you cancel at the last minute, you still need to pay the worker you employ.

When a worker cancels: Although a worker calling in sick can throw a wrench into your day, try to take a breath and remember that what matters most is the health of your employee as well as you and your family. It’s in everyone’s interest to make sure she stays home and rests. That’s why a generous sick day policy written into a work agreement is a good idea.

There can be other reasons why a worker might occasionally ask for an unscheduled day off: her own child is sick; her car broke down and she has to get it to the mechanic so she can get to work tomorrow. Try to give her the latitude you’d want in your workplace and resort to your backup plan: for parents, this could be a nanny-share in the neighborhood or a last minute sitter-booking service. For seniors or people with disabilities who employ home attendants, it’s always a good idea to know which if any of the workers you employ have a flexible schedule and can be called in at the last minute.

If cancellations become common: This is, of course, a significant problem that needs to be discussed. Try to determine if there is some kind of family crisis or other underlying issue that your employee can share with you to help explain what’s going on. Consider whether the situation might resolve and if you can wait it out. These can be very difficult moments in a domestic work relationship. Do your best to listen carefully, consider all your options, and then figure out the path forward.

I want to add some tasks—such as housecleaning—to my employee’s job responsibilities. How can I do this in a fair way?

Whenever you need to alter or expand a worker’s job, the best approach is to sit down with her, explain the new tasks and what additional pay you’re offering, and ask if she can agree to the changes. It’s good to be prepared that she might say no, and you will need to figure out another way to get those tasks done. If she is open to it and you have a written work agreement, you can talk together about how it would be modified to reflect the revised job.

What can help: If you are in the hiring process and you think it’s possible you’ll want to expand the job down the line, it’s a good idea to forecast such future needs and discuss how flexible a worker can or can’t be. For example, not all workers are willing to take on house cleaning and it is better to know this in the beginning of the relationship.

Compensation: When the worker takes on new responsibilities, you should calculate how much time per day she will be spending on these tasks, and make sure to pay her for the extra time she will be working.

How can we communicate when we don't speak the same language?

If the worker you want to employ doesn’t speak sufficient English or the language you speak to allow you to communicate, you could consider asking someone you know (or asking if she knows someone) who can come over and interpret for you. You can also look for a local community organization that might be willing to help, and plan to visit there together. Both domestic worker organizations or day laborer organizations might be able to help.

If you do this, remember to look directly at the worker you employ during the conversation – when she is talking and when you are – not at your interpreter. This will show respect and help build the relationship between you.

Note: At Hand in Hand, we are working to translate our documents into other languages. Right now, we have some sample work agreements and our Employer Checklist translated into Spanish, which can be a helpful starting point for a conversation.

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