Childcare And Coronavirus: Should I Still Pay My Kids' Babysitter? And Other Questions

COVID-19 — and social distancing — have upended routines for parents, nannies and daycares.

Earlier this week, my husband and I got a heartbreaking email from our younger son’s daycare. It’s still open, for now, even as cases of the new coronavirus in our hometown of New York City continue to climb. But city officials are contemplating closing daycares for the foreseeable future. And many parents — us included — aren’t sending our little ones in. The daycare was basically pleading with us to keep paying our usual rate for as long as we can, no matter what happens.

It’s a hard situation for everyone. Families, like mine, struggle to pay for childcare under the best of circumstances. And paying for months of childcare you’re not actually using — at the same time that many families are getting crushed financially — is no small ask. But I love the women who watch my toddler, and I want to make sure they keep getting paid.

We’re obviously not alone. As COVID-19 has obliterated so many families’ routines, parents and care providers are being forced to wrestle with some pretty big, thorny issues. Like how to socially distance, together. Or how to equitably handle pay for a care provider when that care provider isn’t working.

So HuffPost parents spoke to two industry experts to find out what to keep in mind if you find yourself in this position.

First, check your contract.

“It’s best practice, in the industry, to have a written nanny and family agreement,” Michelle LaRowe, an International Nanny Association credentialed nanny, told HuffPost.

In an ideal world, you and your child’s care provider have already addressed questions like whether they get paid time off (and for how long) and whether they’re entitled to a guaranteed number of paid hours per week.

“Look at the agreement you have, and make sure you are following it,” LaRowe said.

The same applies for daycare families. Now is the time to dig up the contract you signed way back when and re-read it — closely. It could specify that you are required to pay when the daycare is closed due to a public health emergency. (If it doesn’t, you probably don’t have to.)

It will also very likely to say whether you are expected to pay if your child is staying home because they’re sick or at-risk of illness.

In general, “if a daycare is still open for business, [families] are most likely going to continue paying the same fees,” Eva MacCleery, director of client services for HomePay, told HuffPost. But there are reports of daycares making the decision to charge parents who aren’t sending their kids in 50% of their usual fees.

If you don’t have a contract, keep in mind there may be a difference between what is legally required and what’s fair.

The Fair Labor Standards act does not require an employer to pay a non-exempt employee for time not worked,” said LaRowe. “Nannies are non-exempt employees.”

That said, certain states do require employers to offer some level of paid sick leave. And Congress just passed a coronavirus aid bill that requires employers to provide some level of paid and family leave. However, employers with fewer than 50 employees can apply for an exemption, so it’s not really clear what impact, if any, it might have on families and their caregivers.

And there is, of course, an important ethical element to all of this.

“Families should be considering what they are legally required to do, but also what the right thing is for their family and their caregiver,” said MacCleery.

There are many reasons why your caregiver might need to take some time off right now: He or she gets sick, has a family member who gets sick, or needs to self-isolate. Maybe your own work situation has changed, so you simply don’t need care while you’re home, or maybe you’re just not comfortable having someone else come into your home while social distancing. Industry experts say you should continue to pay them what you can.

“I think families who can afford to are paying their nannies regardless,” said LaRowe. “But this is hard for a lot of people.”

If you can’t pay your full rate, ask yourself: What can we do?

LaRowe suggested that, at a minimum, families should offer to pay regular caregivers the equivalent of what’s in the new coronavirus bill: 10 days’ sick leave if they have to miss work for any reason. If they need to be off for more time, could you consider paying them 50%?

Another possibility? If your child’s babysitter is struggling with how to watch his or her own kid, maybe consider doubling up.

“We are seeing families whose caregivers are now watching their own children at the same time,” said MacCleery — although of course, that limits social distancing. Again, this is a hard, unprecedented situation with no clear-cut answers.

If you’re continuing with your current care situation, then now — like, right now — is the time to check in about expectations. If your kid is going to daycare, what’s being done to promote social distancing (given, of course, that it’s almost impossible to keep little kids apart)? How often are they hand-washing? If your caregiver is still coming in, how is he or she getting there? What specific social distancing measures have you all agreed to stick to? If you’re suddenly working from home, have your expectations for how the days should go changed in any way? Now is also an important time to sit down and hammer out a family-nanny agreement if you don’t already have one.

“It all comes down to open and honest communication,” LaRowe said.

And then all of us doing the best we can.

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