Coronavirus’ Impact on Nanny Employers and Their Caregivers

The coronavirus is all over the news these days and people, even those that don’t typically follow current events, are tuned in.  This article isn’t about the virus itself, its health risks, or prevention; there are plenty of expert sources out there for that information.  This article is focused on how it can affect nanny employers and nannies.  Like every part of the nanny employment relationship, how parents and nannies handle this outbreak will be unique to their particular situation.  This article will hopefully guide you through the many things that need to be discussed and decided on.  As you go through the issues, I strongly encourage you to memorialize your agreements and action steps in an addendum to your nanny contract.

There are a wide variety of views on how contagious and dangerous the coronavirus is, how to best contain it, how to prevent spread, and what actions individuals should take in response.  Employers and their nanny may have different personal opinions on all of those issues, however it’s essential that everyone agree on one shared approach for the household.  Problems will pop up quickly if for example, the nanny thinks hand sanitizer is useless so her approach is to have the kids just wash their hands when they come in the door and mom and dad think hand sanitizer is highly effective so their approach is to have the kids use it when they get in the car after school, after the park, and after each errand.  What happens when the parents and the nanny have different approaches?  Hopefully a conversation.  Decisions around the coronavirus aren’t the same as decisions around discipline, screen time, food choices, or any of the many other issues parents and nannies navigate regularly.  Decisions around how the virus will be handled at work directly and heavily impact the nanny’s personal life including the health and well-being of her and her family.  Each side should share their perspectives, their concerns, and their questions, openly listen to the other side’s views and then work to find an approach that works for everyone.  Although the employer’s approach wins out by default – ultimately it is their home and their children – it’s important to understand the nanny’s needs and concerns and when possible, integrate them into the approach. 

The landscape of the outbreak is constantly changing so it’s essential for everyone to have access to important information as it becomes available.  That means that:

  • parents and nannies should sign up to receive state, city, and county government emergency notifications.  You might have to do some digging to find the appropriate notification systems but all areas have them. 
  • parents and nannies should sign up to receive all updates and emergency notifications from the child’s preschool and/or school.
  • parents should notify their nanny if they’re traveling to specific regions of the world.  Many companies have restricted travel for employees so many nanny employers that normally travel internationally are no longer doing so.  However, if a parent does travel to a high risk area, the nanny should be informed.
  • parents and nannies should notify the other if they’ve been in direct contract with anyone that’s sick (including sharing the symptoms), that’s been confirmed to have the virus, or that has recently traveled to high risk regions of the world.
  • parents and nannies should notify the other if they experience any symptoms including fever, cough, or shortness of breath.

Parents and nannies should decide if there’s other information that’s important to share.

For parents that have a part-time nanny, now is the time to start planning for what you’ll do if you need full-time care.  If your child’s school closes for a few days or a few weeks or if your child becomes symptomatic or sick and is required to stay home, can your current nanny pick up those extra hours?  Don’t assume she can.   Confirm her availability before it’s needed and make sure she keeps you in the loop with any changes.

 If she’s unable to pick up the hours, do you have relatives, friends, or regular sitters that are available for short notice back-up care?  If not, consider signing up for a local agency’s temp service.  My guess is as the virus spreads, they may reach capacity and stop accepting new clients so now’s the best time to sign up.  They usually charge a monthly or yearly subscription fee to provide you with a pre-screened short term or long term temp sitter on short or emergency notice.  Facebook groups focused on local sitter / nanny jobs are also great places to connect with possible back-up caregivers.  Remember those caregivers aren’t vetted in any way so if hiring through a group, do your due diligence. 

There are things everyone can do to slow the spread of the virus and lower the chances of being infected.  The first and best guideline is to be diligent about hand washing; wash using soap and water for 20 seconds and dry hands using a clean or disposable towel.  Parents and nannies should talk through other things that make sense for them like adding some additional cleaning to the daily routine or limiting attendance at classes (e.g. Gymobree, Music Together), outings and errands. 

Experts tell us most people will be infected with the Coronavirus at some point although few will experience serious symptoms.  Chances are nannies will be working through times when they, a parent, or a child are infected and times when a parent or child is sick.  How will that work in the real world?  Now, before you’re forced to make important decisions on the spot, is the time to decide how different situations will be handled.  Parents and their nanny should talk through the questions below to come up with a plan of action.  Nannies that have their own children at home, bring their child to work, care for an elderly parent, work for multiple families, or babysit on the side will need to consider those factors during the action plan discussion.  Those in nanny shares will need to discuss the factors unique to that set-up. 

Will the nanny continue to work or be asked to stay home…
when a parent has been exposed, has symptoms, is confirmed with the virus, or is sick?  (Each one of those scenarios could have a different plan of action.)  If the nanny continues to work, will the parent be quarantined to a room or specific part of the house during that time?  Will the parent want any additional help from the nanny during this time (e.g. nanny takes on the parent’s task of family laundry, nanny prepares parent’s lunch so parent can avoid common space)?  Will the parent attempt to limit direct contract with her child during the nanny’s work hours?  If so, how will that work?  (Think about the guidelines needed for stay-at-home / work-from-home parents.)

when a child has been exposed, has symptoms, is confirmed with the virus, or is sick?  If the nanny continues to work, will the child and nanny be limited to a room or specific part of the house during that time?  If there is more than one child in the family and not all are symptomatic or sick, will the nanny be caring for the non-symptomatic or sick child(ren)?

when the nanny has been exposed, has symptoms, or is confirmed with the virus but isn’t sick enough for a sick day?  If the nanny continues to work, will the nanny and child be limited to a room or specific part of the house during that time?  Will the nanny’s responsibilities change during that time (e.g. the parents will take over grocery shopping until the nanny is virus-free)?

When the Nanny Is Asked To Stay Home
Most nannies have guaranteed hours that normally would cover the family asking the nanny not to come in due to sickness however, that benefit is meant to provide a regular income during typical times.  An outbreak with extended time off is outside of the norm.   Many families who provide guaranteed hours can’t afford to pay their nanny for long periods of time off; this scenario was never figured into their childcare budget.  Honest communication around guaranteed hours is the best way to find solutions that work for both sides. 

If the nanny is asked to stay home (e.g. she has symptoms but feels well enough to work, child is sick and parents are home to care for him), will she be fully or partially paid for that time? Is there a limit to the amount of paid time off?  What happens if more than one round of time off happens?  If she’s not paid for the time off and applies for temp work making her unavailable to come back on short notice, what is the family’s plan for back-up care?

When the nanny is sick and needs to stay home…
The virus is expected to have a mild cold-like effect on most people but some will get more seriously ill.  If the nanny is too sick to work, what will happen if she doesn’t recover before her paid sick time runs out?  Will she be provided extra fully paid or partially paid days off or will that time go unpaid?  Can she use other paid time off (e.g. vacation time, personal days) in lieu of sick days?

Make sure to see if your state or city has sick leave laws that apply to public health emergency situations.  A recent SHRM article explains, “States and municipalities that mandate paid sick leave all provide paid time off for an employee who is ill with COVID-19, noted Matthew Johnson, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Greenville, S.C. The vast majority also provide paid time off if the employee’s eligible relative—such as a spouse, child or parent—is sick or requires treatment associated with an illness.”

If the School Closes
Parents, if your child’s school closes due to the virus, what containment guidelines do you want in place at home?  Can your child still socialize with classmates (e.g. play dates, meeting up at the park)?  Can the nanny take your child on outings (e.g. story time at the library, trip to the zoo)?  Can they ride public transportation?  If staying home is the preference, should outside play time be a daily must?  Will normal guidelines (e.g. screen time limit, time spent reading) change?  Is the nanny prepared to support your child if the school moves to distance learning? Parents should share their expectations for this time with their nanny so she can prepare for any changes and make the time at home fun and engaging.

If the Family Travels
This is situation where what was originally agreed to might not work as the US and other countries continue to report more and more cases.  Parents and their nanny should talk about the nanny’s concerns, if any, around traveling and detail additional precautions that need to put in place to combat the outbreak.  It’s also important to have a plan of action ready in case the nanny develops symptoms and needs to self-quarantine or needs medical treatment during the trip.  If traveling outside the country, make sure the nanny’s medical insurance provides coverage. 

Because every situation is unique, additional questions will come up.  Again, the best approach is honest, respectful dialogue between the parents and nanny.  Below I’ve listed the questions I’ve received (in additional to all the ones addressed above) from parent and nanny clients.  If you have a strong opinion one way or the other, it’s a good idea to add these topics to your discussion list.

  • Should the employer be able to impose restrictions on the nanny’s personal life if the employer believes doing so will protect her family (e.g. ask the nanny to not use public transportation or attend public gatherings, ask the nanny to decline sitting jobs until the outbreak is contained)?
  • Can a family require their nanny to use paid vacation time if the nanny is required to stay home or asks to stay home after all paid sick time is used?  (If paid vacation time is included in the nanny contract, there’s a legal factor to this question.) 
  • If a nanny is self-quarantined and/or out sick, should her job be held open for her to return indefinitely or can a family hire a replacement at some point?  (If your state requires employers to provide paid family and medical leave, there may be a legal requirement around this question.)
  • For nannies that care for school aged kids, if the school closes for a long period of time (e.g. school moves to distance learning), should the nanny’s hourly rate be increased?
  • When a vaccine becomes available, should a family pay for an uninsured nanny to receive it?

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