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What to ask about time off when you’re a nanny or caregiver and when

Here are the key questions to ask your employer about holiday, vacation or sick time off — especially whether or not it's paid or unpaid.

What to ask about time off when you’re a nanny or caregiver and when

Remember that being a nanny or senior caregiver is just like any other job. When you want to take a vacation or a day off, you need approval from your employer first. That means when you first get hired, you need to talk about your terms — salary, hours and benefits (like vacation!) — and come to an agreement on what works best for you and your employer.

Here are six questions caregivers often have about taking time off.

1. What kind of time off can you take and is it paid time off?

One of the critical items to discuss before starting a new job is time off. Map out with your employer which holidays are free, how much vacation time is OK and how many sick days are allowed — and whether these days are paid or unpaid. 

According to the International Nanny Association’s (INA) 2017 Nanny Salary & Benefits Survey, the majority of nannies say their employers provide some paid time off (also, called PTO). And of the nannies who receive paid time off, 43% are given 2-4 weeks, which may include holidays, vacation, sick days and other paid days off.

Holidays

According to the INA survey, 73% of nannies are given paid holidays. However, the exact holidays and how many are given varies among families.

The most common holidays given off are:

  • New Year’s Day.
  • Memorial Day.
  • Independence Day.
  • Labor Day.
  • Thanksgiving.
  • Christmas.

Vacation days

Although 75% of nannies say they get paid vacation days, according to the INA survey, the number of paid vacation days may vary. It’s common to get two weeks of paid vacation time off. Maybe one week overlaps with the family’s vacation and one week is a time of your choosing. 

Sick days

And according to the INA survey, 67% of nannies get paid sick days — about four or five days is pretty typical.

Family leave

Like the other types of time off, family leave or maternity leave — whether fully or partially paid, or unpaid — is at your employer’s discretion, and the length of time off is too. However, in a great working relationship, it might be a consideration if it means you can come back to work after leave.

2. When should you talk about time off?

“It’s best to negotiate time off at the same time that you negotiate your [pay],” says Karen Elizaga, executive coach and author of “Find Your Sweet Spot.”

If there are particular holidays that are important to you, mention them early. Holidays are a busy time for everyone, and some families may need support during Thanksgiving or Christmas. 

You’ll also want to plan out when you would like to take vacation time. Many families have their own vacations scheduled. Find out when they are and if they want you to travel with them on the family vacation. If you’ll be staying home, is that time paid or unpaid? Having these conversations early is essential for avoiding last-minute conflicts.

“The worst thing to do would be to ask the family two weeks before you decide to hop on a plane to Costa Rica,” says 10-year nanny veteran, Anna Fox, from Los Angeles. “Figure out what works for you and the family. That way both parties can enter into an agreement, and all is set in advance.”

3. How do you guarantee time off?

The easiest way to settle on time off is to include it in your work agreement. Though not legally required, a nanny contract or senior care contract provides a framework for you and your employer to set clear expectations from the start and get everything in writing.

4. How should you schedule your time off?

Once you and your employer have agreed on vacation time, get it on the books. Many families like to keep a shared calendar — paper or electronic — where everyone can see planned days off. The calendar can, of course, be flexible, as needs and events change throughout the year. The key is to make sure that everyone understands the rules about scheduling and how to keep everyone informed. This way, your boss has time to plan and possibly hire backup child care.

5. How should you deal with last-minute or unexpected time off?

Not all time off can be planned. We all get sick, have family emergencies or unpredictable events that require days off. Employers are people too, and they understand that. The main thing is to set up a notification system that allows you to reach your family easily to let them know that you will be out. Some families communicate via text while others like the phone. Find out what works best for your employer and use their system.

6. What are the keys to success when taking time off?

The most important part of taking time off is being truthful with your employer. “Honesty is the best policy,” offers Tammy Gold, certified parent coach, licensed therapist and founder of the Tammy Gold Nanny Agency. “We’re all allowed personal days,” she says. You just don’t want to be caught taking a sick day, and have your employer see a picture you post on Instagram of you and your friend at the beach.

The main thing is to not leave this planning to the last minute. Keeping the lines of communication open will help you and your employer maintain a trusting relationship.

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