Au Pairs Have Been Awarded A Settlement For Unfair Work Conditions

By: Denise Koslowsky

According to an article in the LA Times, au pairs working in the US from countries around the world will receive a proposed settlement of $65.5 million dollars.  The lawsuit was brought by a dozen former au pairs and filed against the companies that enticed them to come to the United States for employment.


What is an au pair?

Au pairs are actually part of a program overseen by the US State Department.  It was launched as a cultural exchange program in 1986 as a way of bringing young people from other countries to the US to live with families and care for their children in exchange for help learning the language.  In general, au pairs have less experience than a traditional nanny and often times they earn less as well.


Why did they sue?

The lawsuit claims that the companies that were authorized to bring them into the country colluded to keep their wages low, often ignoring state minimum wage regulations.  It also claims that overtime rules were ignored. Additionally several of the au pairs named in the case alleged that they were treated unfairly; they claim the families they were living with pushed the limits of the chores they required the au pairs to do and in some cases would not allow them to eat with the family.


What was the outcome?

Although the settlement still needs to be approved by a judge, the companies named in the suit have agreed to make sure all au pairs are informed of their legal rights.

You can read more about the lawsuit here.


Advice From Advocate

Many families with significant assets (or those on their way there) find it important to hire household help, including an au pair, to help their life run more smoothly.  In many cases due to the personal relationship they establish with your children, an au pair seems to become part of your family so we understand how it may be difficult to look at them as a threat.  However, we feel that in light of this lawsuit it is important that we look at the possibility.


What’s the risk?

  • You need to consider that claims can be filed against you including wage disputes, labor laws, sexual harassment, wrongful termination or discrimination.  These are issues often worried about in business settings but often forgotten in domestic situations.  Even au pairs have the right to sue their employers.
  • If you hire an au pair directly, legally you become an employer and must obey both state and federal laws and regulations. This means you must supply your employees with a variety of documents, including W4 withholding for federal taxes.  You must have workers’ compensation insurance to cover employees for work-related injuries as well as statutory disability coverage for injuries not related to the job.  The penalties for a lack of coverage are very severe and need to be taken seriously!  It is wise to consult an attorney before you do any hiring. You may find it’s in your best interest to work through an agency that supplies au pairs rather than becoming an employer yourself.
  • Aside from workers’ compensation, you need to be sure to adequately protect yourself from personal injury claims that can be filed by your au pair.

How can I avoid them?

We recommend you consider the following:

  • Talking to legal counsel before making any hiring decisions.
  • Hiring staff through an agency specializing in domestics.
  • Have a background check performed.
  • Ask for permission to obtain a copy of their driving history.  This can affect many things not the least of which is the safety of your family.
  • Utilizing a written employment agreement.
  • Employment Practices Liability insurance (if you are interested, this is something we can help you obtain, give us a call).
  • Having a high-limit on your personal liability portion of your homeowner’s policy.
  • Umbrella coverage.

At Advocate Brokerage, we make sure our customers understand their risk factors and take steps to ensure that their interests are protected.  Making sure that those who employ household help secure the coverage they need is part of what we do.  If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at 914-723-7100.

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