Monday, January 5, 2009

PRIVACY FOR NANNIES & AU PAIRS

Nannies and au pairs should expect total privacy from employers against all searches of personal property unless nannies freely consent to such searches.

Without prior permission, parents cannot open or examine the contents of packages, bags, coats, or any personal property of nannies and au pairs. Diaries, mail, and personal computers are not subject to examination by parents without the expressed permission of the employee.

Live-in nannies and au pairs are allowed privacy in their sleeping area and storage areas, such as drawers and closets, are not usually subject to employer inspection. The consent of the caregiver should be written and obtained as a condition of employment.

If parents suspect contraband or thievery, they must contact the police and allow a police officer to search belongings. Only a police officer has the right to search for illegal goods.

Similarly, nannies and au pairs must not intrude in any of the employer’s personal property or personal affairs, unless specifically asked to do so.

Au pairs and nannies expect that all conversations revealing any personal information be held confidential between the participants. This is true of overheard conversations between parents, inappropriate remarks by children, and anything else seen or heard at the employer’s home.

All medical information is included with the other confidential knowledge that must be held private by both the caregiver and the employer.

Anything that happens in the employer’s home, except for the most trivial matters, should be kept as confidential, unless there is a clear understanding otherwise.

The only exceptions are criminal matters of child abuse. Au pairs and nannies are advocates for children. If nannies or au pairs suspect that a child is being abused they should call the local Child Protective Services (CPS) agency or the CPS agency in the state in which the abuse occurred.

Caregivers can call the National Hotline for Child Abuse at (800) 4-ACHILD to make the report if they cannot find a number for the state agency.

Caregivers should read articles at the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, http://www.childhelpusa.org/ or the Child Welfare Information Gateway at http://www.childwelfare.gov/ to learn more about child abuse.

Parents may confirm the dates of employment to subsequent employers but should not comment negatively in any way about the applicant. Employers cannot discuss health or medications of former employees without risking legal liability.

All actions between in-home childcare providers and employers after employment have been terminated, is private information not to be disseminated indiscriminately. The essential obligation of parents is to safeguard their children. If a nanny or au pair cannot be trusted, they should replace the employee.

Employers should establish the legal and ethical parameters before hiring to prevent financial liability to the parent from a suit by an angry au pair or nanny.

The overriding legal and moral obligation of parents and childcare providers is to nurture and to guard children.

Protecting children, while respecting the privacy of others, is also an important role model to children.

Have you had any issues with parents or employers respecting your privacy?

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why don't the agencies tell us this stuff? Au Pair in Rhode Island

Anonymous said...

My privacy issue is simply that the kids often come upstairs to my bedroom when the parents are home and I am off from work. It's my time-off and I need time away from the children. The parents occasionally will say "Kids come downstairs Marcia is resting" but more often they do not say anything. I don't think they go in my room when I am not home though. They never search through my belongings, I don't think.
Marcia from Virginia

Anonymous said...

I'm an au pair in America from Africa. I'm working for a respectful family now. My first family was a nightmare.

Once I went away for the weekend. When I arrived home my bedroom door was open and light was on in my bedroom. My cosmetics were all over the floor. My lipsticks were left open without the lid on them. Some had been smashed into the rug. Some of my jewelry was on my bed.

Nothing was expensive but I was angry that the kids were allowed in my room and into my stuff. The mother acted as if she didn't know. But all of the bedrooms are on the same floor. They must pass my room to get to the children's bedrooms. No way the parents didn't see the mess. Even if the hadn't they needed to explain to the children to respect my privacy and belongings.

That was actually my "last straw." I know young kids do stuff like that until they are taught otherwise. I wasn't as angry at them as I was with the parents. For the parents to ignore the issue was disrespectful.

Rachel au pair

Anonymous said...

One of the children read my emails. Talk about an invasion of privacy! I had to explain it’s exactly the same things as reading my postal mail. It’s mine, not hers.

Anonymous said...

I have a similar problem of children not respecting my space during time off. The kids don’t understand that I am working sometimes and then have time off each day. They come up to my room during my time off. It's annoying. But they never ruined anything of mine or stole anything from me.
Florida nanny

Pat Cascio said...

Hi Stephanie,

I read your article on privacy and wondered about the law behind this. If a nanny lives in the same house as the family, why can't the home owners enter her room? I had a nanny (many, many years ago) that was wearing my clothes and another that was smoking in her 3rd floor bedroom. I felt that she was violating house rules and that I had the right to find out what was going on. With the first one, I found my clothes were in a pile in her closet (worn and in need of laundering) and with the second one (the smoker) there were Lysol soaked rags in the ceiling air vents to cover the smell of the smoke and dirty dishes under her bed with cigarette butts snubbed out on the dishes. The most outrageously awful situation is that one nanny drank entire bottle of bourbon out of our bar...she did that in the first week she was with us...and when I looked in her room I found drug paraphernalia in the vanity cabinet under her sink.

If someone called me for a reference on her, or the others, do you think I should not have told the perspective employer about these experiences?

Pat

Anonymous said...

Hi this is Kelly and I'm a nanny in NYC.
Responding to Pat above:
I'm not an expert about anything but I think that if a parent finds drug paraphernalia in their employee's bedroom they should call the cops. It's okay to notice anything illegal but get the police involved so the parents are safe from doing anything wrong. Parents don't want to get sued by an angry employee who says they were looking though thier personal belongings.

It reads above that parents should include consent of room searches and personal belongings of the employee in the work agreement. That's all parents have to do. Discuss it and have consent. Write down the rules of the home.

Obviously anything illegal is reason to break the job contract and fire the employee! Call the police and they'll remove her.

Following house rules is a problem and should be addressed in the interview and in the work agreement. Just write it down ahead of time so nanny knows her room may be walked into or searched if need be.

I think parents can say something to future parent/employers about a nanny committing a crime. That's obvious. But all other employees in other fields can sue if their former employers "bad mouth" their former employees to future employeers.

When a former employee has not committed a crime and future employers call for references coproprations are only allowed to confirm or not confirm that the former employee worked for them, for how long, and the salary they made. It protects the employee from SLANDER.

I think it's a given if anyone breaks the law the reference would say that!!

But other business professionals are not allowed to slander former employees because if they slander former employees there is a risk of being sued.

Similarly, it's against the law for parents to break fair hiring laws. But parents do it in nanny interviews all the time. Parents aren't allowed to ask nannies that interview with them about their religion, age and so on because it's against the law. But, they still ask.

Imagine if someone at American Express asked a interviewee their sexual preference? Cannot be done. So why can parents do that for nannies?

My guess is the article is sharing info that is true of all other employer/employee relationships. Sometimes what SHOULD be practiced -- isn't.

Better to inform parents of what they should do to protect themselves. Tell them to get in writing if you might go through their belongings. If it's not in the work agreement than call the police to protect themselves.

Anonymous said...

How many parents don't pay taxes and are supposed to? Parents give bad references to slander nannies when they feel angry. But shouldn't.

http://www.references-etc.com/zipping_the_lips_of_a_former_employer.html

Loose-lips don't just sink ships..

They often devastate a job hunters ability to gain employment. After leaving a job, a former employer is free to pass along negative information about you to prospective employers, and most state laws protect them from legal recourse provided the information is - job related; based upon credible evidence; and made without malice.

It is illegal for a former employer to purposefully give false information for the sake of harming one's reputation or preventing one from obtaining employment...it is inappropriate for a prospective employer to ask questions or a former employer to provide information about an individual's race, color, religion, sex, national or ethnic origin, age, disability status, marital status, sexual orientation, or parenting responsibilities.

Former employers who fear potential defamation and slander law suites have become crafty when answering employment reference questions. Rather than speak negatively about a former employee, some will opt to "No Comment" when asked critical employment questions regarding performance, termination, and eligibility for rehire....

Another common practice among leery employers is to refuse to give any information about an employee other than dates of employment and title. This is gross disservice to an employee who has dedicated years of faithful service to a company, yet gets no better of a reference then an employee who was fired for embezzlement.

Lara P. Nanny in CT

Anonymous said...

I think there is a moral obligation for parents NOT to search nanny's belongings or room without permission. I agree with article to call police for help if you suspect theft or anything illegal. Obviously when someone breaks the law parents can tell references. It's only fair that parents who are employers follow same standards other employees expect.

I worked in a retail store. They required us to use see-through, clear handbags they provided us so they don't have to even search us for stealing.

Parents can do anything if it's discussed and written down. I signed an online safety contract with my boss and their children. Nannies post photos of kids they care for online all the time. But I signed an agreement that I am not allowed to do that. Parents can demand anything but must be agreed upon ahead of time. Just ask the employee for consent and sign it then there cannot be any hard feelings.

Kate from CA

Anonymous said...

The issue of privacy doesn't sound like a legal one as much as a moral one. But it sounds like good advice for parents to check with their local laws first before snooping in their nanny's personal belongings.

The issue of when a room can be searched must be decided previous to employment. These are things to be discussed when signing the work agreement, so it is clear what is expected.

Why not include in the work agreement something like: "If we suspect theft or criminal activity we have the right to inspect the nanny's room and personal belongings" and sign it.

Explain to the children and nanny that they all intend to respect their privacy unless theft or criminal activity is suspected.

Even if there is no agreement, the first concern of the parent must be the kids and the home. No court would prosecute a parent who fires a nanny because the parents found drugs in a nannies room. Cannot prosecute or sue because they found criminal activity. But they ought to get assistance from the proper authorities.

The person may not be searched without permission.

Obviously a parent/employer has the right to search the premises if they think there is theft or something unlawful like drugs being used in their home. The homeowner has a responsibility to search packages and such if there is a suspicion that the home or any of the inhabitants of the home might be in danger because of contents of a package. But get help from the proper professionals.

If a former employer gives a negative reference, the former employer puts themselves at risk of a lawsuit. The advice to verify employment and dates, and no further info, is sound legal advice.

Safety of children and home are most important. The point is, even if the neighborhood is 'bad' and the nanny has a weapons permit, do you want the nanny to have a gun in the house?

I think the author was firmly stating RESPECT the privacy of the employee. Parents do not have the right to inspect or browse through the employee's property without consent because most nanniies never commit crimes and would be very insulted if they discovered their privacy were being disrespected.

Have the employee sign a consent to search clause. Then your bases are all covered.

Anonymous said...

The article is very correct. Pat is also right that the room can be searched but, legally. It is definitely right that there should be pre-agreement and that the police must be contacted if illegal activity is suspected. It is more than a moral issue because improper employer behavior puts the employer in legal jeapordy.
Both parents and nannies (and any and every citizen) have an obligation to report illegal activity of any kind.

From a PARENT (not nanny or agency) in NJ

Anonymous said...

I knew a girl that was fired for wearing lingerie in the house where she was a live-in nanny. The nanny and the agency that represented her were outraged. The parents packed her bags and left them on the back porch. She was a live-in. The agency owner actually drove to the house to pick the nanny up and got her a hotel room. When asked by telephone the parents said they had asked the nanny not to dress inappropriately previously and didn't want her in the house any longer.

So, the nanny sued them for unemployment benefits. The family sounded ridiculous firing the nanny over something so trivial to the judge.

But, had they signed an agreement stating what actions will lead to dismissal the nanny would never have sued the parents. The parents did have to pay unemployment for the nanny since the judge said it WAS NOT JUST CAUSE to fire her.

Signing an agreement about consent before searching an employee's property is the correct thing to do. Any important house rules should be clearly stated on paper. All parents are different so the rules and disciplinary actions may be different. So spell it out for employees.

Now, if you were a nanny or a parent how would you feel if you found the parents searching your mail, packages, purses, closets? Spell it out so there is no confusion.

Wisconsin nanny

Anonymous said...

"Illegal search and seizure" applies to your items like your purse. Parents have no probable cause for searching and they ARE NOT LEGAL REPRESENTATIVES OF THE THE STATE. Even if you shoplift in a store they have to call the police to have the police search you. As far as I'm concerned that implies that they think you are a thief and in America we are INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty.

Anonymous said...

I am a parent also like Pat above and I absolutely don't think smoking in a bedroom could be considered punishable. I don't think that's a reason to fire someone at all. Borrowing shirts isn't a problem for me either. But drugs, absolutely. Proving that everyone has different opinions.

So follow the article advice and get this written down, talk about it with the nanny, sign the document so there is no confusion. I'm glad the topic is being discussed because I will winclude that drug use in the home will lead to immediate dismissal in the future.

Anonymous said...

Oh boy parent Pat....Three times you had issues? Proof that rules needed to be more clearly defined between you and your nannies. See why as employers we need to clearly define the rules and what the consequences of breaking certain rules will be?

I've never heard of one parent having so many problems with three separate caregivers. I don't know if it was lack of interview skills, inaccurate checking of references (false references were given to you), or just a lack of communication of what the house rules were, but sounds like things went terribly wrong three times.

I've never had a serious issue with a nanny, which may have something to do with luck. But a lot to open communication too. We do spell out our house rules and the consequences of breaking the most serious rules in our interview and when signing the contract. Just having them live in my home is more than enough info that I need know about them. There aren't many secrets in such small quarters.

Parent in Brooklyn New York

Anonymous said...

Removing Privacy as an Issue
http://www.worldlawdirect.com/article/611/Monitoring_email:_Is_it_legal%3F.html

This article from World Law Direct says that employers should have employees sign off on allowing searches of privat property to avoid being accused of violation of law.

"The simplest way to make certain an employee does not develop an expectation of privacy, according to Thiel, is to inform employees that the company has a written policy of maintaining its right to access and monitor stored email messages.

Within the written policy there should be a provision where the employee gives signoff consent to the employer’s accessing and monitoring. Thiel emphasized the importance of informing the employee of a written policy and the equal importance that the employee sign and return the consent form to the employer.

The issuing of a policy also protects the employer from an employee’s claiming violation of the Fourth Amendment regarding search and seizure."

Nanny in Bay Area

Anonymous said...

Kids don't even want their parents reading their diaries, why should a parent be allowed to do that to an adult employee? If you feel you need to search the employees closets or belongings there is something very very very wrong with the relationship and you need to fire her immediately.

Unless, of course, this keeps happening to you. Then maybe you should question if you, the parent, are really the unreasonable one in the working relationship.

My humble au pair opinion

Anonymous said...

The U.S. Constitution includes a right to privacy and prohibits unreasonable searches. But, employee searches by non-governmental employers may be legal.

BUT, in this case the home is the nanny's home too.

How would you feel if the tables were reversed?

Is being paranoid and searching a caregiver's room or personal belongings a good way to welcome a nanny into your home? Absolutely not. Treat others as you would like to be treated.

Coomon sense dictates that annies should have private phone lines, private emails, private bedrooms and bathrooms despite being non-governmental workplace because it is her living quarters.

I would simply refuse to consent to the searches. Parents cannot fire nannies for cause, if they don't consent to such searches and a search of their mail, purse, closets, dresser drawers, and packages without cause is unreasonable.

Note to nannies: if you were not given any prior notice that searches would be conducted or not consenting to searches would lead to termination I would say I was fired for undue cause for sure.

If they think there is any criminal activity call the police

Anonymous said...

After reading so many posts here it is clear getting consent in writing is the correct way to go. We absolutely should talk about this and we do need to inform agencies, parents and nannies about this. Live-in employees have rights too.

The biggest issue (problem) with the nanny industry is making the whole industry more professional. It's easy for in-home caregivers to be friends with the parents, but maintaing an attitude of professional detachment is harder.

Good idea to get consent for search in writing. No one should argue against that. But parents should seriously consider providing their employees space, privacy, and confidentiality. Live-in employees often feel like they never get time-off so give them some freedom.

Anonymous said...

My former employer told other mothers how much I was paid. So disrespectful. Plenty of employers know how much they pay their employees but would NEVER ever consider gossiping about how much their employees make to others.

Parents need to be told by nanny placement agency staff how important it is to respect employee privacy.

To assume just because someone lives in your house that you have the right to search their property is arrogant and disrespectful. I don't think nannies should search through parent belonging either. As a nanny I stay out of their files, papers, adult bedrooms, to respect their privacy. I expect the same.

Rather than sound defensive, parents and nanny agencies might as well "step up" their professional relationship and get the permission in writing before searching nanny property.

Nanny Laurin

Anonymous said...

I agree Laurin. Just because agency owners or parents have not considered this issue previously they may as well consider this now. Rather than sound defensive, just change. I would be very concerned about allowing someone with such bad history with nannies (Pat above) help me find a job and I certianly would not want to work for her. It's just logical if someone has that much bad history they are doing something wrong too. Sorry, but drama follows some people. Nanny Sharon in NJ

Anonymous said...

Parents have a right to keep their house safe but nannies have rights too. I agree with the concept that we should all (parents, children, nannies) keep out of other's belongings. I really like the idea of getting and giving consent before the job starts. Most nannies never ever break typical house rules (even curfews during the week). I like to stay out of the parents' room completely. But if I have to go in their room I shouldn't get in trouble either.

Since I am trustworthy, if I found any of the family members snooping in my room I would look for another job.

Nanny Francine

Anonymous said...

Domestic Workers’ Rights in the United States:
A report prepared for the U.N. Human Rights Committee:
Article 17 protects the domestic worker from “arbitrary or unlawful interference with her privacy, family, home or correspondence.” Due to the nature of her work, the domestic worker is particularly vulnerable to privacy invasions. Employers have been documented to interfere with workers’ rights in a number of different ways, including monitoring phone conversations, restricting access to others, opening mail, and searching the workers’ private effects and rooms. Some employers have interfered with domestic workers’ families by threatening or harassing the workers’ families, often in an attempt to get them to persuade the worker to drop a complaint.

Anonymous said...

Invasion of privacy: Domestic workers often have their rooms searched, their mail opened, and are not allowed to make private phone calls. In the report prepared for the U.N. Human Rights Committee, “Domestic Workers’ Rights in the United States,” violations against domestic workers are noted. The report states that “Article 17 protects the domestic worker from ‘arbitrary or unlawful interference with her privacy, family, home or correspondence.’ Due to the nature of her work, the domestic worker is particularly vulnerable to privacy invasions. Employers have been documented to interfere with workers’ rights in a number of different ways, including monitoring phone conversations, restricting access to others, opening mail, and searching the workers’ private effects and rooms. Some employers have interfered with domestic workers’ families by threatening or harassing the workers’ families, often in an attempt to get them to persuade the worker to drop a complaint.”