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To Believe or Not to Believe Your Household Help

Mar 30, 2008
What do you do if your nanny or housekeeper tells you that she must leave the country to visit a dying relative?

The first thing you need to do is find out if that relative is really dying. Okay, that was very cynical, but let's face it, how many times have you heard that line used as an excuse to quietly and quickly leave a job?

Before we get into what you need to do, let's first discuss the reasons why this line may be used in an effort to avoid confrontation. My first inclination is that 10% of the time someone is really in dire straits. The other 90% percent represents someone looking for a way to leave the job for one of the following reasons:

1) She doesn't want to work there anymore nor deal with the issues at hand. 2) She has been offered another job with better terms and conditions. In order not to lose it, she needs to grab it quickly while leaving you without any notice. 3) She wants the time to try out the new position before she lets go entirely of her current job. 4) She simply wants some time off to look for something better. If she doesn't find it, she can always return to you.

Obviously in all the above cases, the nanny or housekeeper is dishonest and selfish. Unfortunately, if any of the points 1-4 are true and discovered by you, she will definitely walk away on bad terms. She will think at the time that she doesn't need a reference, but a resume with holes in it is always suspicious. If the next employer should find out how she left the last employer, it doesn't put her in a good light. So first try to get your employee to come clean about the facts concerning leaving temporarily. Drill her to see if there are any other potential reasons for her leaving the job.

Now, let's assume that your nanny or housekeeper represents the 10% of those who are NOT using this as an excuse to get away. Your first thought is to promise that you will hold her job for her - but for how long? Is two weeks appropriate or a full month? Should you offer to hold her job indefinitely? Should you pay her for this time off?

Here is some advice under these circumstances:

1) First and foremost, don't freak out nor panic. Temporary help is always available through various resources and worst-case scenario is that you have to get a new nanny or housekeeper.

2) Never promise any specific period of time to hold a job because you may be held to your word and find it poses a problem if you change your mind.

3) Although it is discretionary with respect to paying someone for this type of time off, it is rarely done. However, if you choose to do so, covering a 2-week period would be more than fair.

4) Be sure to get an email address or phone number for where she can be reached while away. Ask her to stay in touch on a weekly basis to give you an idea of how things are progressing and as to when she might be coming back.

5) Don't be disappointed if during the time she is away, the nanny realizes that she wants to change jobs, stay in her country and/or simply take more time off. Although you will be suspicious over this and find it upsetting, sometimes people come to different conclusions once they are away from the job itself.

6) In light of the potential that the nanny might not be returning, keep your eyes open at all times either by putting the word out to friends and/or any other employment services that are available to you.

7) If you use temporary household help, always tell the temp that if it proves to be a good fit and the former employee doesn't return, there is potential for a permanent job. (Temps will treat a job differently if they think there is potential for a permanent job offer.)

8) Remember that no one is indispensable. No matter how good the nanny or housekeeper does the job, there will always be someone out there that does it just as good or better. Sometimes this provides a perfect opportunity for you to correct some things that maybe you weren't happy about with your last employee giving you a chance to alter household management procedures.

9) If your nanny or housekeeper does not come back for whatever reason while she is attending to her dying relative, please do not be so angry that you decide to get back at her by NOT providing a reference. Remember the law states that at the very minimum you are required to give an employee a "letter of employment verification". Although you feel somewhat duped and abandoned, try to put your anger aside and simply stay professional.

A word for nannies or housekeepers reading this. It is always best to be honest at all times. If you are using this as an excuse to leave a position, remember that lies always follow you and eventually surface. No one likes a liar. No matter the circumstances, it is always better to tell the truth. Secondly, even if you have personality and employment issues with your employer and cannot see eye-to-eye, be honest about the problems, provide proper notice and make every effort to leave on good terms.
About the Author
Marta Perrone, author of How to Find, Hire, Train and Maintain Household Help. Free report: Top 10 Mistakes Household Employers Make When Recruiting Help.
http://www.domesticpublications.com, http://domestic-connections.com, http://martaperrone.com
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