Child care costs have skyrocketed 150% for Massachusetts families who hire au pairs

February 5, 2020

Some families in Massachusetts just saw their child care costs shoot up by 150% almost overnight, CNN reports.

The reason? Two months ago, on December 2, a Bay State federal appeals court affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Cultural Care Au Pair. With that decision, the court confirmed that au pair workers qualify as “domestic workers”—and, therefore, are protected by the Massachusetts minimum wage, overtime, and Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (DWBOR) laws 

The au pair program, designed as a federal cultural exchange program under the U.S. State Department, brings au pairs to the United States on temporary J-1 exchange visas. Under the traditional program, families nationwide paid their au pairs a stipend—a minimum of $195.75 a week for up to 45 hours of child care work.

However, CNN reports, as of January 2020, parents in Massachusetts now must pay the state’s minimum wage of $12.75 an hour, or the stipend—whichever is more—raising the weekly wage to more than $500 for 45 hours.

In addition, under Massachusetts law, families that hire au pairs now must give domestic workers who labor 16 or more hours a week a written agreement that includes information about:

  • Their regular and overtime rate of pay;
  • Raises or increases in pay for added duties or skills;
  • Work schedule and job duties;
  • Rest periods, sick leave, holidays, vacation, and personal days’
  • Any other benefits;
  • Charges or pay deductions;
  • Eligibility for workers’ compensation;
  • The process for raising and resolving concerns;
  • Notice of termination by the worker or employer;
  • Why and when the employer will enter the worker’s living space (for live-in workers); and
  • What would constitute “cause” for termination (for live-in workers).

In addition, employers of domestic workers must keep payroll records and provide paystubs.  Records should be kept for three years. Specifically, domestic workers who work 16 or more hours per week must receive a timesheet at least every two weeks that shows the number of hours worked each day. The timesheet should be signed or acknowledged by both the worker and employer.

A worker who disagrees with the number of hours listed has the right to make a note on the timesheet of the hours the worker believes that he or she worked.  Signing a timesheet does not mean that the worker cannot later claim any additional wages owed.  Failure to sign a timesheet does not allow an employer to delay or withhold pay.

According to CNN, all of this sounds like good news to Abril Nieves, who arrived from Mexico in 2014 to be an au pair for a family in Boston. While many au pairs have a good experience, she felt as if her host family had taken advantage of her.

“What [the agency] sold me was a cultural exchange,” she told the cable news network. “They said you’ll work a couple hours, learn English, travel.”

Instead she found herself working more than 45 hours a week—caring for four children, all under the age of two—and she didn’t feel like she was being fairly compensated for the work she was providing.

“The program is flawed,” said Nieves. “We don’t have sick days or benefits.”

However, although the ruling was designed to protect people like Nieves, many say that it doesn’t fairly account for the value of free food, housing, and additional financial support provided by the host family throughout their year together. Critics of the ruling worry that the dramatic shift in cost will push families away from the program altogether, blocking the opportunity for young people who are interested in visiting the US.

“The increase in financial obligations for families is a significant challenge,” Natalie Jordan, SVP of Cultural Care Au Pair, told CNN.

Research contact: @CNN

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