Au Pair Ruling

A federal appellate court ruling has created a difficult situation for some families who rely on “au pair” arrangements for their child care. The ruling upheld the application of the Massachusetts Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to au pair arrangements.

In an “au pair” arrangement, a young person comes from another country to live with a U.S. family. In return for room and board, they provide child care. In many cases, they are treated very well, often as a family members. They have the opportunity to perfect their English and may also be a full time student. They may have light responsibilities, perhaps only after-school pick up and afternoon childcare, but they may make a critical difference for working parents. All benefit from a cultural exchange.

For better or for worse, what historically has been a personal arrangement of trust has grown into a big business. Agencies recruit women from around the world and place them with families to provide child care. They charge the families hefty fees. In some cases, the “au pair” has not been treated as a family member, but as a domestic servant with full-time responsibilities often going beyond child care to include house work. Because the women are on temporary visas, they have limited ability to push back on unreasonable demands and cases of real abuse have occurred.

The legislature followed California and New York and passed a Massachusetts Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2014 to respond to a series of troubling reports. The Massachusetts “DWBOR” requires families to treat their au pairs as employees:

  • Keep records of hours worked
  • Pay Massachusetts minimum wage (now $12/hour) and overtime
  • Make only limited permitted deductions for room and board
  • Provide rest time and sick leave
  • Provide reasonable access to phone and internet

Of critical importance, the au pair must be provided notice of these rights and an employer family can be prosecuted if they retaliate against an au pair’s assertion of these rights.

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was enacted over 5 years ago, but some agencies who place au pairs have chosen to litigate the new rules, instead of adapting to them. They have argued that weaker federal rules preempt the state rules. The agencies have continued to place au pairs without regard to the rules and, with the litigation pending, the Massachusetts Attorney General has not brought enforcement actions against families.

The recent ruling settles the issue that the Massachusetts DWBOR does lawfully apply to au pair arrangments. Weaker federal rules do not necessarily preempt stronger state rules. For example, the federal minimum wage is only $7.25, but Massachusetts workers benefit from the higher Massachusetts rate of $12.00. The court confirmed that Massachusetts has the power to set standards for domestic workers, including au pairs.

For families who currently have arrangements that do not comply with Massachusetts rules, the change increases costs and paperwork and, in some cases, creates a genuine hardship. I have heard from many families who depend on au pair child care who are distraught and are seeking a legislative exemption from the new rules. While I am deeply troubled that some mutually beneficial arrangements are going to be disrupted by the new rules, I do not support exempting au pair arrangements.

The Massachusetts Domestic Workers bill of rights responded to very real abuses. At the time the bill was under discussion and debate, we considered exempting au pair arrangements but concluded that by so doing we would be creating a significant loop hole that would defeat the purposes of the bill. The bill was passed by a unanimous final roll call in the Senate and by a final roll call of 126 to 22 in the House.

To the extent that some families have been surprised by the ruling, the fault lies with agencies who may have placed au pairs under the old rules and failed to inform families that the new rules were likely to come into force when litigation ended. The legislation was enacted on June 26, 2014 and a full transition period was allowed. We made it effective April 1, 2015.

Recognizing that families are not at fault, the Attorney General is still deferring enforcement as agencies and families sort out the consequences, but all who are affected should plan to move as quickly as possible into compliance. Agencies should be offering to unwind agreements or absorb the costs. I would like to know about agencies who are not taking appropriate responsibility for the transition.

I am also eager to continue to hear from affected families in my district — while I do not foresee any wholesale changes and our degrees of freedom on the details are limited, I remain willing to look for fair and feasible adjustments.

My Next Steps (December 23, 2019)

Based on the feedback that I have received in multiple conversations, I am focusing on two main problems for families:

  • Protecting families who have received poor guidance or no guidance from au pair agencies from retroactive liability for wages in private lawsuits.
  • Attempting to assure that services become available to families so that they can comply with both general wage and hour laws (state and federal) and the J-1 visa rules. The most logical place for these services to come from is the au pair agencies, but so far they have not stepped up.

Government Resources

Studies and Advocacy Resources

Editorials

Note re Housing and Living Allowances

The existing limits on pay deductions for housing and food strike many families as unreasonable. The maximum deduction for housing is $35/week and the maximum deduction for food is $6.00/day. For more detail see the minimum wage regulations.

I agree that in the context of the homes where au pairs are most likely to be retained, these numbers look low. Yet, I do not think that adjusting these numbers is a promising idea. First, from a practical legislative standpoint, raising these numbers basically means cutting the minimum wage; we cannot carve out au pairs for different allowances. Cutting the minimum wage is not what we are trying to do right now. Second, the truth is that from a marginal cost standpoint, the numbers are not so far off. It does not actually cost a family anything to let an au pair use empty space in the house. Similarly, one more plate at a family table does not necessarily generate the same cost as it would to prepare a single meal from scratch.

Addendum: This note has generated push back. I fully appreciate that the marginal costs of having an au pair in a house are not zero. I fully appreciate that families are likely to spend much more than the housing and meals allowances. I’m just responding to some who seemed to suggest that the allowances should be compared to market rents.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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83 Comments

  1. Is there a minimum wage for American babysitters?

    How about for a kid mowing your lawn or shoveling your sidewalk?

    Why don’t households hire Americans as au pairs?

    1. Maybe because “au pair” is not an English word?
      In reality, there are American au pairs. My friends in Bay Area had an au pair from rural Michigan. And once she moved on, her younger sister hoped in.

    2. If a babysitter works over a certain number of hours per week, they are legally considered a domestic worker & employee and certain laws, including the one described in this post, kick in. My roommate had problems with a family who didn’t want to bother with all of that messy paperwork, but turned out to want her to babysit 20+ hours a week and be available on a couple of hours notice. She had to stop working for them and said later that the fact that they were trying to skirt the law should have been a massive red flag.

  2. Sadly, it is another move that makes having children in Massachusetts a privilege of either very rich or very poor. No kids for middle class.
    Ironically, daycare is much more affordable in both California (except for San Francisco) and New York (except for Manhattan). The cost of daycare in MA is insanely high and for no good reason (except for excessive rules and regulations).

  3. Can you say more about your argument “[by excluding au pairs] we would be creating a significant loop hole that would defeat the purposes of the bill”? It seems like you expect that more people would bring au pairs into their family as a result of this, however au pairs are regulated under the J-1 visa, a program with federal oversight. J-1 visas cannot be obtained without a sponsor. Domestic workers who are already in this country cannot get a J-1 visa to become an au pair. I cannot understand what you mean by loop hole.

    1. Simply that the many low-income vulnerable non-European workers who come in to do child care work as “au pairs” would have only the protections offered by federal law. The federal law really regulates the agencies and does little to directly police family employers.

      1. That’s actually incorrect, Will. The Agencies actually do monthly check-ins with the Host Family directly, then also weekly checks with the Au Pairs for confirmation of adherence to the agreements.

        Should and could more checks and balances be implemented? Absolutely and 99.9999% of all Host Families would easily agree to be in full compliance, because the Au Pairs are providing a level of support to the household. But by simply mandating that Host Families simply ‘pay more’ won’t ever ensure abuses won’t take place, in fact it’s more liable that they would. Simply using the modality that “charge more, it will fix itself,” is simply a poor means of protection.

        This is 2019, connectivity on hundreds of different levels of social interaction could be used and for very minimal costs. Demanding agencies pay a percentage of the Au Pair/Host Parent fees to a support fund (I’m not going to use the Commonwealth’s Contractor Guaranty Fund as an example as it’s an absolute joke) strictly to alleviate issues and abuses, could be very simply implemented.

        1. The State Department does no enforcement against families, only agencies. It has limited enforcement capacity anyway.

          Adding the wage and hours enforcement power of the Attorney General will make a difference.

          It is not realistic to trust the agencies.

          1. Will, shouldn’t au pairs have work visas instead of J1 Visas? Why don’t they? I think you are missing the point that au pairs VOLUNTARILY apply to come to the US to participate in a Cultural Exchange Program. With social media and feedback from au pairs about the program to potential new ones, this program is GROWING. Why? This program offers a great opportunity for Au Pairs to experience life in the US by living with a family? Prior to au pairs being included as DWBOR, are you saying there was no enforcement of the au pair receiving their stipend by the agencies? They weren’t protected before? Can you please share statistical records of abuses? Au pairs are protected and agencies, the good ones, are doing a good job in that regard. The majority of host families and au pairs abide by the rules and its a beautiful program that my kids enjoy. Our au pair is part of our family and this ruling has caused a divide in the heart of our family. Can you please share what metric solidified your support to include au pairs? or was it based on hearsay or 1 or 2 incidents? I believe you have been mislead regarding agencies. They do a good job advocating for both sides. Most of the agencies perform to a high standard to make sure the program is administered properly and both sides are protected. Can you please share metrics on past abuses? Was it one certain agency or all of them? I like to live by the motto, if its not broken don’t fix it. Can you please again provide support for a broken system that required remedy? Lastly sponsors are named on the J1 visa and have the power to “Rematch” or move the au pair away from the Host family if they don’t feel comfortable staying there. This applies to the host family as well. Some au pairs come here thinking they are on vacation, want to travel every weekend and do nothing aside from watching kids while on their cellphones. What warrants classifying host families as employers? That’s a misclassification and against the spirit of the J1 Visa and au pair program. I strongly suggest you look into the rematch and other options afforded to the au pair and host families. I hope you maintain an open my and try to get more information regarding the facts. What this ruling does is tear apart the program and limit the number of affordable child care options in this state. Matahari would like nothing more than to shut down this competition and make child care even less affordable than it already is.

            1. For documentation of abuses, please check out some of the resources linked to in the amicus brief under resources above. Relying on the agencies is just not realistic.

              Really, the behavior of the agencies in this whole episode should be enough to shake one’s confidence in them. So many parents are telling me that they were blind-sided by this.

            2. Will, you are awesome. I appreciate your feedback. In the amicus brief, I may have missed it but I didn’t see any au pair statistics. It seemed like one sided comments entered by those organizations which had the most to gain from au pairs being included in DWBOR. I was specifically looking for metrics around complaints filed from au pairs vs. the population of au pairs in the state and whether that metric was significant. How many complaints has the AG received from Au pairs from competing agencies? unlike Matahari and other local organizations who are looking to provide domestic services and eliminate the au pair program? Can you please share those metrics? There is NO perfect system. Unfortunately abuse exists in our schools, in our work, in our home and in public places but we aren’t going to shut down everything. Including these visitors as workers has nothing to do with abuse.
              Again, there is a clear distinction between someone who voluntarily wants to participate in a program, matches with a host family that they feel comfortable with, and as a young adult (18-26) is not reliant on a living wage but an International Experience vs. a DWBOR who is absolutely reliant on a living wage. Your comments would be welcomed.

  4. “one more plate at a family table does not necessarily generate the same cost as it would to prepare a single meal from scratch.” This is completely in accurate.

    If I make chicken and pasta for my family of 4, I make 12 ounces chicken and 8 ounces of pasta. If I make it for 5 (including my au pair) I make 15 ounces and 10 ounces. This food isn’t free. We don’t cook and split a meal that feeds 4 between 5 people because we have an au pair. We don’t go out to dinner with our au pair and order 4 entrees.

    1. The point being 3 oz of chicken and 2 oz of pasta doesn’t cost more than $6 a day. Hell, you can get pasta for 10 cents an oz.

      The only arguments against these limited rules are born from the entitlement of the previous Wild West nature of the au pair business (and it is now BIG business), and if these rules bother you then the reality is that you were taking advantage of your au pair.

      1. Conor – You sound VERY similar to a twitter handle, @jamescopland with your rhetoric and defensiveness here. Please don’t try to insinuate that there’s a “Wild Wild West” mentality with the Au Pair program in the Commonwealth, without basing things on both factual and personal information.

        1: Our family has had 3 Au Pairs, with 2 different agencies. Under both, my wife and I were mandated on a monthly (and often bi-weekly) basis to adhere to the federal standards for the program. If either my wife or I were late, within a week, a phone call came from both agencies. That was to dictate that our management of our Au Pair was by the book.
        2: Our Au Pair(s) needed to attend both monthly group meetings with other local Au Pairs, and more importantly monthly one-on-one check-ins, without Host Family to determine if we were impinging on those standards.
        3: These rules “bother” host families, because VERY few parents want to subject the care their children being provided with as an employee that clocks out at a certain time (but still never going beyond the agreements) and is just an employee. We’ve taken our Au Pairs, to sporting events, to family gatherings, on vacation not because they’re an “employee” but because they have become a family member, which for a young female or male, between the age of 18-26 it’s beneficial for everyone.

        So, maybe ease back on the “reality that you were taking advantage of your au pair.”

        1. The issue comes with the agencies and people who abuse the system – which has been a long standing problem. No one is watching the agencies to make sure they comply – in fact the agency could be oversees making private agreements with families here. So what is the Au Pair suppose to do if he or she is being abused – they might have little money to go to a hotel , or get a flight back home – in fact they can easily be turned into indentured servants. If we didn’t have bad actors – we wouldn’t need these laws

  5. Minimum wage is justified and makes sense when it’s earned by employees or other service providers who do not live in the homes of their employers/customers. The pay of those who are provided with free housing and meals in exchange for their labor should be exempt from the minimum wage laws – the parties in question should themselves be able to negotiate the pay, if any.

    Au Pairs were never supposed to be treated like regular workers. Their arrangements with the host families involves cohabitation and sharing meals (not unlike a visiting family member) and accrued benefits (such as the opportunity to learn English, become acquainted with a different culture, and make friends) go beyond any pay. We do not require that visiting family members or friends get paid minimum wage for baby sitting or helping with light housework.

    People should be free to offer their help/services to someone for no pay at all, if that’s what they want to do for one reason or anther – no need for the “Big Brother” to interfere. This legislation is too intrusive and burdensome. It will make it harder for middle-class families to afford Au Pairs, and will diminish their numbers, much to the detriment of both sides. All that was needed was some basic regulation prohibiting overworking Au Pairs in voluntary arrangements that do not involve paying them a minimum wage.

    1. People travelling from overseas to work are often in a far more vulnerable situation than friends and family would be, although abuse of dependent family members is sadly common as well. Please keep in mind that this legislation was found necessary because *not* having it was resulting in vulnerable people being abused and having no way out of the situation.

    2. This is so morally disgusting on every level I’m likely to lose my lunch just reading it. What kind of person thinks it’s okay to strip wage protections away from vulnerable girls living among strangers across the sea from their own home and families? Exactly how far can this fantasy of the noble welcoming master and grateful servant be pushed? Should au pairs wear kerchiefs and answer to “Mammy,” too?

      Huge numbers of au pairs come from rural towns, many in Scandinavia, where they were promised a fun time and exposure to American culture in the big city—in return for light, limited childcare duties performed mostly in the presence of a stay at home mom.

      Instead they find themselves working as unregulated, underpaid, overworked household slaves far from the city and isolated from their friends and family, trying to raise strangers’ children while avoiding the advances of leering husbands and the attacks of jealous wine moms. The agency that promised them fun and culture overseas is now nowhere to be found, and the legal protections they’re used to at home mostly don’t exist or aren’t enforced.

      The abuses aren’t rare. They’re the norm. It’s just that no one wants to hear about them.

      But let’s forget about that and remember their freedom to work overtime for nothing all day and be chased around the kitchen island all night. Pity the poor masters instead.

  6. I think that receiving our minimum wage of $12.00 per hour as well as living in the child’s home is pretty expensive for most middle income people to afford and therefore is very dumb unless the objective is to allow these services to only the rich. Would be better if they could make a trade off between the hourly wage and the FREE or mostly FREE lodging and meals. Say $9.00 hour and lodging and meals for free. Again, this is a very biased law as it is only for the wealthy.

    1. Then the reality of the situation is that you can’t afford a live in domestic worker. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice because you want something you can’t afford. You may need it, but it’s not the fault of the au pair that you can’t afford a live in domestic worker. It’s sounds shitty, but the pain shouldn’t be borne by the au pair.

      1. Again Conor, you’re basis of “judgement” is invalid. An Au Pair is here for an educational aspect, which ALL Host Families support and aid. A Domestic Worker isn’t going to sit with a child to help with his/her reading; a domestic worker isn’t going to sit and teach that child a new language. An Au Pair, focusing on education in his/her home country, will. That’s a huge disconnect that you’re missing here and your arrogance shows in your very pointed accusations towards people disagreeing with the Senator’s words.

        1. When you say “ALL” in capitals or 99.9999% you really hurt your argument.

          Isolated au pairs and au pairs who have been taken advantage of are far more common than rare.

          I’m sure some au pairs have wonderful experiences and I am sure others have horrible experiences. Just like all cultural exchanges.

  7. Ny and CA do not include au pairs in theirs bill so I do not understand that point of your note. There are also points in this that zero sense… I have to pay unemployment but an au pair can never collect because they go back to a different country and you can’t collect from a difference country. How is this fair? How is it fair I bought a bigger home so an au pair is comfortable and part of the family and now I lost that benefit. How is a room in Belmont worth $35 a week… that is written for companies that allow more that one person. Do DW get $500 a year in education credit? Are DW maxed at 10 hour days and 45 hours per week? The protections the state bill is looking for for au pairs doesn’t protect them it drives up nanny costs in an already expensive part of the country…

  8. I thought the NY law specifically excluded aupairs. Yet, you are using it as support for the MA law. Please fact check that and get back to us.

      1. You mean MA goes further than EVERY OTHER STATE. Huge victory forMatahari by eliminating their “competition” and killing a 30 year old cultural exchange program in this state. I don’t understand how DWBOR is adding protections for au pairs. Au pairs must attend monthly meetings and I get a weekly check-in from the LCC. Our au pair can leave us at any time and find another family and we would be back to the drawing board to find the perfect match that agrees to match with us. DWBOR requires au pairs to be paid at least double (if working 40 hours/week) and host families still must comply with the stricter hours and work guidelines of the Federal program (max 10 hours/ day, 45 hours/ week, consecutive 1 1/2 days off, 1 weekend/month off, housework must relate to children like tidy playroom, launder kids clothes, etc). Host families will pay State unemployment and worker’s compensation for their au pair though they will never utilize it because it violates their J-1 Visa status. I will withhold MA Paid Family and Medical Leave from my au pair’s salary which she will also never been able to utilize as it violates her Visa status. In the four months that are au pair was with us, we were so excited that her $200/week stipend allowed her to be so well travelled – a huge reason that international young people join the au pair program in addition to improving their English for their future careers when they return to their home countries. My au pair used her $200/week stipend to afford a 7 day Caribbean cruise with dolphin encounter excursion, Vegas/Grand Canyon/Los Angeles/San Francisco roadtrip, and travel to New York and Pittsburgh among other cultural experiences. I agree that everyone has the right to a “living wage” but an au pair has zero living expenses. They live rent free consuming food they don’t buy in addition to free car, gas and insurance as well as free consumables like shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, tampons, etc. Giving us $1.50 for breakfast allowance and $2.25 for lunch and dinner is laughable. I will not be subjecting my family or au pair to eat within these anorexic food allowance guidelines. Also, where in Boston can you rent a room for $35/week?! I’m sad that my third au pair will be my last but I am proud that her additional $10,000 due to DWBOR will be paying for her graduate school when she returns.

  9. So, has anyone here, actually hosted an au pair? We have used au pairs for a number of years and have had 3 stay with us for the full 2 years they are allowed to. For most au pairs, the job is good, they do not work particularly hard, they have a lot of personal free time, access to a car, with their personal gas paid for, car insurance, cell phone, unlimited food for them and periodically their friends. The list could go on. We have even hosted one of our au pair’s parents when they came to the US on vacation. This is a “cultural” exchange. If the politicians think that it makes sense to raise the minimum wage for au pairs, then all the “extra” benefits should become a “cost” to the au pair just as someone would have those costs if they were living outside the home. What this has done is create an additional paperwork process for families and at the end of the day, it won’t really benefit the au pair much as families will look to tighten up hours and reduce those additional benefits, all as a result of a ruling made by uninformed judges and class action litigators. The au pair will become an employee as opposed to a family member.

    1. Again, I think you’re missing the point. This isn’t overreach for the sake of overreach. This was done because “au pairs” were being taken advantage of. It sucks that it ruins a good thing for people who were doing right, but we make laws to protect people who are NOT being treated right. Without the law they have no protection. Do you believe in gun safety laws? That they protect everyone? Well, a lot of responsible gun owners make this same “overreach” and “hardship on good gun owner” argument. It’s not about you, or them, it’s about the people who are doing it wrong, and this bill addressed the loop holes they were abusing. You didn’t cause this, but it had to be done.

      1. Again Conor, you’re completely using a conceptualization that has no merit. Au Pairs have multiple opportunities to interview with the prospective host-family. They have the direct ability to re-match, as they deem fit. They have a direct support network with other Au Pair and their Counselors. So if there are “people” doing it wrong, why simply throw extra money at a program, where it will completely price out those families who respect the program, consider their Au Pairs as family, then subject those Au Pairs who are being mistreated, with nothing more than a few pounds, schillings and pence (#rogerwaters) and no means of amelioration? Mandate a 3 Strike Rule against Host Families. Mandate anonymous hotline for those cases of sexual harrassment/abuse, not unlike DCF. Don’t immediately castigate those Host Families that adhered to the tenets of the program due to a few instances of issues some 10+ years ago.

    2. You all sound exactly like Southerners bitching about the end of slavery.

      “iT’s nOt FAir wE have to paY them noW! OnlY the rIch wIll Have seRVants!!”

      Family? They’re family members? Does your family dictate your hours, give you instructions, tell you when to be home, have the power to kick you out of the country or sexually harass you while you’re babysitting? If you think the au pairs really think of you as family, you’re deluding yourself to feel better about exploiting them. Next you’ll wax nostalgic about the happy darkies singin’ in the fields.

      My god.

        1. I’m coming from a you’re-literally-trying-to-lower-minimum-wage-so-foreign-live-in-help-can-subsidize-your-lifestyle place.

          That attempt at derisive dismissal didn’t work out as well as you hoped, did it, Dee?

    3. Completely agree with Kristin. It’s sad to have hosted 3 au pairs and this will be my last as it has killed the cultural exchange as I cannot afford to comply with both Federal and State laws while providing a cultural experience for them like taking them on vacations, dinners out, gifts for every holiday, etc. The administrative burden is too much.

  10. I thought NY law specifically excluded au pairs from the act? Yet, the Senator is citing NY law as support for the MA Act. Can you please fact check that and get back to us?

  11. As a longtime au pair family, it seems there is some confusion and misunderstanding about why certain families chose au pairs (and how they treat au pairs and what au pairs actually do for the family). Most families that I know in this area, including ourselves, have chosen an au pair because it was the only fairly affordable childcare option and because we believed that our children would benefit from exposure to someone from a different country/culture, even for a relatively limited amount of time (I’m sure there are exceptions to this). On the point of the deductions, I can share from years of experience that the maximum deductions for food and housing don’t even begin to cover the expenses of having an additional adult living in your house – one who generally makes their own meals, could require special diets/foods, eats snacks, and many other small impacts and factors that are just a reality of life. I strongly disagree with the Senator’s statement “It does not actually cost a family anything to let an au pair use empty space in the house”: actually, you have to pay extra for electricity to support the au pair’s needs (i.e., laundry/wi-fi/cooking/TV) and heating/air conditioning to keep an au pair comfortable while they are home during the day. And many other small expenses like giving an au pair a phone for basic communication, letting them drive your car for their personal errands, the education stipend, and other more voluntary expenses like bringing them on family trips if they’d like to attend, taking them out to dinner with the family, and many other small expenses that come with bringing someone new into your family (for example, many au pairs arrive to New England with no winter clothes – families help them to purchase those basic items). Regarding the legislation, rather than providing realistic solutions to families, our legislators, despite their attempts to promote fair and just policies for all workers, have made this somewhat affordable program now out of reach. As other commenters stated, childcare is exceptionally un-affordable in MA and it is very difficult to find stable solutions. Having reviewed the summary reports of au pair grievances, some of which are very grave and disturbing, I a also think that most of these grievances should be more effectively addressed through greater oversight of the program and monitoring of the au pair agencies who are paid by both families and au pairs to do this work, rather than by increasing financial burden on the families. In developing this legislation, it seems that the voices of families like ours were not accounted for – we likely could have provided an additional perspective on the program’s benefits and negatives, resulting in more thoughtful legislation on this matter and perhaps a solution that would not have such a significant consequence for many families and their au pairs. What do our legislators propose now as the solution for families who are now left without affordable childcare?

  12. I think what has not been stated clearly in this discussion is that au pairs have always had protection from the au pair agency, in particular by us local counselors who they can always confide in and who make sure that their families abide to state department regulations. Au pairs sign up for a cultural exchange program which is different from being a domestic worker. It’s a way for them to come into the US and experience American culture without the responsibilities that people who reside here have. It’s very sad to see that our wonderful exchange program that has benefited so many young people from around the world is threatened by a few with their own agenda.

    1. By a few with their own agenda I assume you mean the poors who have the gall to demand minimum wage?

      I do feel bad for the au pair agencies, huddled in their own luxury office tower waiting for the T to reroute to best serve their needs. Poor dears and their billionaire owners, too.

      1. I am very sympathetic to people who live in MA and have to make a living, Steven. I am one of them. The cost of living is crazy in our city and I agree that minimum wage should reflect that. However, a participant of a cultural exchange program that lives and eats with their host family for free, not having to worry about paying for utilities, health and car insurance, etc. does not fit in that category. I assume you would agree? Including au pairs in this bill will result in way fewer au pairs being able to be placed in our state. That is unfortunate.

        1. “For free”

          It’s not for free if you’re deducting it from their wages the way you want to do, now is it?

          It’s part of their compensation. Which you offer because you know damn well you couldn’t get round the clock childcare availability if you didn’t.

          1. Probably hard to continue having a discussion if you continue to assume bad intentions, Steven. The majority of people in this program, on all ends, are in it with good intentions.

  13. Will,

    It’s disingenuous and bad economics to say that it costs nothing to have someone use an extra room in the house.

    At a most basic level, an extra person uses extra utilities.

    More practically, it requires *having* an extra room, which may be factored in to the house that people buy or rent (if they buy a house intending to have room for an au pair) or if they have kids share a room in order to free one up.

    Finally, there’s also an obvious opportunity cost that if someone decides they want to rent a room out, they could rent it to a young professional, so the true “cost” is what they could otherwise earn through renting that room out less what they can deduct.

      1. Will, I am a single mother (sole parent) who works in Boston and lives in Boston. I purchased a three bedroom apartment rather than a two bedroom to provide a room for my au pair. I cannot afford the number of childcare hours that would be necessary to work my demanding job (60-70 hrs a week) and commute to the suburbs. In fact, the only way I am able to cover those hours is through a combination of very expensive daycare and an au pair, as nannies are unwilling to work pre and post- daycare hours. The 3 bedroom apartment that I moved into costs me 3x a month what my prior 2 bedroom cost, many multiples of the $35 a week the MA regulation allows for. I fully agree with paying au pairs MA minimum wage rather than national minimum wage (which is what the federal stipend accounts for); however, MA minimum wage is high in part because of the high cost of living here that we all face. The federal stipend deducts 40% for room and board which is on the low end of what most MA residents spend on room and board and would be a much more reasonable standard going forward.

  14. State Senator – Thank you for drafting and sharing this letter. I think the great majority of host families would agree with much of what you state, with the exception of the last paragraph. When one employs a non-tenant nanny and pays them minimum wage the pays for their own car, housing, water and sewer, food, phone, and more. It would be false to suggest that these costs should not come out of their wages: it’s how the market works. Dismissing host family non-cash costs as “empty rooms” or “extra plates” is a jarring oversimplification that does nothing to address this issue. Despite your assertion, we CAN carve out different allowances for au pairs. Let’s find a way.

      1. Let’s be clear about marginal costs. As a family who specifically bought a larger house than planned when we moved to MA to be able to host an au pair, that cost was hardly marginal. Additionally, the car insurance is a significant cost and one that must be borne by the host family per the federal regulations if the au pair is driving (even if it’s only for personal use and not on-duty). Let me give you our numbers: +$400/month to add our au pair, which is almost exactly the difference in weekly cost between what we were paying under the federal stipend and what we would owe under DWBOR (our au pair typically works 25ish hrs/wk). However, we are not allowed to factor that cost into our deductions and we are required to pay it as the host family per the federal regulations. That is a cost we would not bear if we had chosen to hire a nanny or other domestic worker. Shouldn’t there at least be specific deductions allowed for au pairs if the federal program requires provision of benefits that other domestic workers are not required to receive?

  15. While there were some Real abuses (on vacation in London at a B and B I witnessed an any pair being abused), I think this goes too far. Hopefully this is only a first step to address a problem and it will be revised.

    Au pairs are not workers who are responsible for their own living expenses and should not be treated as such.

    There should be regulations, probably as part of the agency contract, that specify support such as room, board, t pass etc in addition to duties and expected hours, or max hours per week to work. In return for this some pay that is less than the state minimum.

    1. I think the point was that the law needed to catch up to force the agencies to adopt these policies. If anything, it’s pretty clear that companies will NEVER take on any cost that they aren’t required to take on. The agencies will be forced to adjust if business starts to collapse, but something needed to be done to address abuses before companies would consider doing anything.

    2. For f*** sake. We’re talking about trying to nickel and dime someone out of a MIMIMUM WAGE. That’s currently less than $500 a week.

      Is the argument that minimum wage workers enjoy their lavish income only because we begrudgingly concede they need to put a roof over their heads? Where in Massachusetts is minimum wage sufficient to pay for housing??

      Providing housing is not only a benefit to the au pair. It’s a benefit for the parents, too, since there aren’t enough qualified minimum wage workers available in their area; its the same reason Cape and Island restaurants have started supplying housing. And there certainly aren’t many willing to be available 24/7 onsite.

      Live-in staff is an enormous privilege. Let’s not pretend it’s some pillar of middle class life.

  16. Dear Senator,

    I am writing to share my story with you and based on the families I know who are in the same group (we share a local childcare consultant (LCC) in the Belmont area), I know I am not in the minority.

    My au pair is not a domestic worker, she is my third daughter. In fact, she is my second, third daughter. I now have two young women I feel like a second mom to after having these girls live with me in my home, in addition to my baby girls.
    Some notes about the two au pairs I have hosted: She is someone I spend time with in the evening, discussing options for University as she plans for her return home. She is someone I push and mentor to think about her future, and what she wants to do with her life after she finishes her year with us, and beyond. I listen and guide her when she’s stressed from complicated decisions she needs to make. I’ve written her recommendations for university. I still FaceTime with my former au pair every few weeks. She calls me when she is feeling sad or bummed out because we have a great relationship and I can be a second ear for her. I give my current au pair big hugs when she misses her family or feels bummed about an argument with her friends. She joins us during weekend shopping trips or fun family events if she has no plans with her friends. Not because she is working, but because she has become part of the family. She is in our Christmas card, and has her own stocking for Christmas this year. Her mom is coming to stay with us for a few weeks so we can show her where her daughter is and what she is doing and share our life with her. I FaceTime with her mom. She also takes care of our (her) girls. I travel for work. I love my job, but I absolutely hate that part of my job. I rarely use the word hate. The only thing that makes me feel comfortable leaving my sweet babies (2.5 and 10 months old), is that I know they have the consistency of their big sister at home.
    I wish they had their mom, but I am the breadwinner and I need to do what I need to do to provide the best I can for my babies. I know I can change jobs, but I don’t have to because I have an au pair at home who I love and I trust.
    I’m sharing my story because I want you to know that the recent law passed is not just about the financial burden we are now facing which we will somehow figure out, but also the overall feeling that comes with the domestic worker classification. It stinks. It feels like a shift overall in the program. It feels like we are now intentionally shifting this program to be more of an employee relationship. I totally get that the au pairs are providing us with a service. Almost an invaluable service as we trust them with our most prized possessions. But if the law is intended for them to be treated fairly, draw up something specific for the protection of au pairs who are with families that are not in the program for the right reasons. I recognize it is too late to do this, but I wanted you to know our family story because there are a lot of others like me out there. We love our au pairs, and we are disappointed in the way this is being handled. Please don’t have a biased opinion of us.
    I appreciate you reading this, and I plan to follow up with an email as well.

    1. Thank you for sharing this.

      Believe me, I understand. My wife was an au pair (a U.S. citizen, but in that economic relationship) and her “employers” came to our wedding!

      This is not about judging people who have an au pair in their home.

      It’s about putting in place a structure that will prevent cases of abuse. Unfortunately, that means paperwork and costs. There are real downsides to every law we put in place. I support this law while recognizing its downside and fully respecting au pairs and their host families.

  17. Universal preschool and a longer school day would benefit all children/families in need of childcare…..and with these changes it would reduce the number of hours of direct care needed by a family (thus reduce the extra “financial burden” that comes with the higher any pair wages). Just saying.

    1. Quiet, dear, we’re whinging about the problems of the gentry now. Please don’t distract us babbling about the needs of the rabble.

  18. One word in the letter the Senator wrote is “enforcement”. There is no “enforcement”
    and until there is nothing will be done.

      1. What I haven’t seen: an organized state effort to ensure au pairs know their rights and don’t end up sexually abused or literal slaves, which is not something I ever thought we’d have to worry about in this country but here we are.

  19. It is sad that in comparison to just a few decades ago when most mothers stayed home to care for their children, many now do not.
    Also, families had more children in those days.
    Now people get married later and thus have fewer children.
    Many people don’t even want children.
    So we import people who do. Is that a good thing?
    Thank God there are still middle-class Americans who are still having children.
    I know that for some families it’s a matter of necessity for the woman to work (yes, I’m supposedly being sexist) due to the high cost of living, but also many women apparently want to be out in the workforce and have a professional job. One has to wonder whether this has something to do with the high divorce rate.
    I don’t think it’s good for society in general. I think a lot is lost.
    I am not being judgmental. Times have changed.

    1. Perhaps the men who want to keep their jobs and be part of the workforce is the reason for the high divorce rate? If that sounds silly, it’s because your logic is sexist. The divorce rate rose when women had the rights to support themselves and their children, which is a good thing for the kids. I myself was raised in an “intact” marriage and I am still in therapy dealing with the impacts of being surrounded by such conflict & lack of resources as a very young child. I work because I

  20. It seems too bad that because some families are abusive
    the relationship has to be made more rigidly bureaucratic
    for all. My question is “Does the law apply in cases where
    the foreign visitor/worker negotiates an agreement directly
    and independently with a family without the involvement of an
    agency? Are people free to set their own terms by mutual
    agreement?

    1. Basically, domestic workers are subject to the protections of Massachusetts wage and hour laws and the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. So, no. There is not complete freedom to negotiate just anything by mutual agreement.

      But I am not aware of any mandatory involvement of agencies — they just facilitate the process. I hope someone will chime in if I am wrong on that.

      1. Will, Yes there is mandatory involvement of agencies.
        https://j1visa.state.gov/programs/ – which again is a Visitor Visa which Au Pairs voluntarily apply to participate. They must be sponsored by an agency and they have protections as detailed below:
        The State Department has activated a helpline to ensure the health and safety of its exchange participants, including au pairs. All participants have a right to be treated fairly and to report abuse without retaliation or threat of program cancellation. Among other prohibitions, no sponsor may threaten program termination, or otherwise retaliate against an au pair solely because he or she has instituted a complaint or taken action to gain assistance from an outside entity regarding a complaint. Au pairs can contact the State Department at any time via the hotline 1-866-283-9090 or at jvisas@state.gov. In addition, they have agencies and a local coordinator that checks in on them. The also meet monthly outside of host families and are able to confide and freely discuss any issues in their current situation. They can also email their LCC to meet them directly and submit to rematch with other host families if they do not feel comfortable. There are advocacy groups and social media. What people fail to realize is that Host families pay far more than minimum wage and they aren’t employers. They don’t hire, fire and are constricted to the rules and regulations of the au pair program. No such rules exist for DWBOR. Host families pay a fee to the agencies for sponsorship, travel, local services, matching services etc. so the agency can properly administer the program (roughly 10k), plus: wages, room and board, educational subsidy, utilities, car, car insurance, gas, nights out and or vacations etc and they are NOT employees. They are visitors who agreed to participate in a cultural exchange program and that program is now growing because of the programs success and the number of young foreign adults who want to partake in the program. If DWBOR for au pairs makes sense, then why not impose volunteers to be paid minimum wage? If the fear is exploitation, volunteers can be taken advantage of and exploited as well within the organization. Why do foreign students want to go to college in this country? It sure isn’t cheaper! They come for the experience as do au pairs and to improve their English and there is value in that. I understand MA is a very worker protective state but again, these aren’t workers, they are visitors, the voluntarily applied, they want to participate, a stipend is NOT a living wage, its extra spending money.

          1. Will, Thanks for the article on au pairs abuses and complaints. You would be surprised how well mobilized au pairs are: they have several different social media groups and are a well informed bunch. Many au pairs come from other countries that do not have the same living standards. Instantly, their standards are improved. There are some that come here with the intention of travelling, and they go away every weekend without bonding with the kids, then request a rematch after they have travelled all along the East Coast. There are some au pairs that think that by becoming an au pair, they may find a way to stay here in this country permanently. There are some au pairs which have never, aside from babysitting their nieces and nephews worked a day in their life and are in over their heads. Most au pairs live at home prior to arrival (18-26). They are not here for a “living wage”. Our responsibility is to uphold the spirit and requirements of the program. The goal is similar to an an intern, working to gain experience, or a volunteer who is committed to helping an organization. Each person is looking to personally benefit from their experience. That is why au pairs do what they do. Most au pairs truly come here in the true spirit of the program and do a good job. I don’t think the complaints provided in your document differs from typical real world complaints, mainly there is a diconnect between what the host family requires of the au pair and what the au pair expected job responsibilities are. That is probably the #1 true reason why there are complaints. I am sorry but there is no correlation in any document provided to support adding them to DWBOR will resolve issues. On the contrary, it will CRUSH the program and limit supply which is exactly what the advocates (like Matahari) want to accomplish because they have the most to benefit. In the brief you sent me, they admitted to being displaced by au pairs. Lastly and most importantly, I appeal to you to look to who is TRULY IMPACTED by this change. It’s not the au pairs, it’s not the host families or the sponsors. It’s the CHILDREN. As host families are struggling to maintain stability for their kids this change will force families to exit as many already have. Please focus on the kids as they are the innocent ones most directly impacted. In addition, Please be aware of trend changes in population of your constituents, 1) People are getting married and having kids later in life. 2) There is less of a reliance on parents or in-laws to help with the kids. 3) Many people in this state are NOT from MA and are reliant a dependent care assistance. 4)There is a shortage of affordable child care options in this State. I appeal to you to support HD4707 until we can all figure out a better solution for all Mass Families.

            1. Will, as a constituent in your district, I was befuddled by the perception within the state (including among your legislative colleagues) that believe an Au Pair is a live-in nanny (domestic worker). I would agree that if an au pair were Mary Poppins then we wouldn’t be having this discussion. An Au Pair is a foreigner, typically a young adult, on their gap year between High School and College who would like to take the year off to study and experience the world. As per US State Department guidelines, these individuals are here on a cultural exchange as stated in their J1 Visitor Visa. Can you please comment as to whether you are supportive of this program as stated or prefer to have it eliminated. It is fair to question the cultural component as Au Pairs could work up to 45 hrs./ week (many don’t). It is reasonable for many to question the cultural component, given the stipulated hours, and suggest host families leverage domestic worker living within MA? Can you please state whether you are with MA Families; or with the domestic workers organizations which lobbied for au pairs to be included as domestic workers but in doing so, threatens to eliminate the au pair program in MA as it clearly competes with the services they provide.

          2. Hey Will, after listening to many different views. The main issue remaining, which warrants support for HD 4707 is the relationships between agencies, host families and au pairs. Specifically, that agencies as per State Department regulations, are the sole sponsors of the au pair program and hosts are reliant on them to participate (even if a host identifies a foreign au pair themselves outside the US). Agencies recruit, perform background checks, verify participants meet the age requirement, assist in obtaining their J1 Visitors Visas and verifies their childcare hours. Agencies also secure participants, secure health insurance, pay Local coordinators to verify au pair is receiving their stipend and working less than 45 hours/week. They organize monthly meetings where au pairs can openly communicate with each other and make sure host families are acting as good hosts. I would like to know what you are preparing to do to provide relief to families; given the high cost of living in this state (conservative est. $300/week) to host an au pair for room, board, gas, car repairs, property depreciation, vehicle excise tax, car insurance, educational subsidy, medications when they are sick etc.), the additional costs as required by DWBOR and considering that your constituents pay roughly 7-9.5K/year to agencies. This brings the price tag for hosting an au pair to roughly $45K/yr.
            In addition to costs, the added concern is that host families were under the assumption that they are participants to a cultural exchange program and have relinquished many rights afforded a typical employer, mainly but not limited to; the right to hire, fire, and abide by restriction of hours and limited job scope. What relief and compensation are you ready to afford because It’s clear, changes have hit one demographic particularly hard which requires the most protection. Our children.

  21. Will, I am glad that you are watching for the “unintended” consequences of legislation. This is so rare in the state house and results are not always seen or occurs until a long time passes. I think there needs to be created, a Future commission convened that does analysis for the legislature to predict the outcomes of whatever legislation, planned or enacted for unintended consequence events near and far term.

  22. Thank you for this post. As you say, the bill was written to be effective as of April 2015. It is the fault of the agencies for refusing to adapt their business models (as any business can and should do in response to a new regulatory environment). Parents should focus their ire on the agencies, not try to get out of abiding by labor laws that were designed in a deliberate and thoughtful way.

  23. Good morning Senator Will and Best Wishes to you and your family.
    Regarding the issue above discussed, and having been in the US
    34 years, I was fully aware from friends who had “au pair” workers who have done a fantastic job with children and with elderly people. However, friends had told me about abuses by others and mistreatment, where there was no recourse for the au-pair worker.

    God bless America that this is being dealt with at the highest levels in our country.

    I hope that the State or the Federal Government has inspectors who can interview the au-pair worker during the course of her/his employment at some point to make sure that such abuses are avoided. Families benefit immensely of the au-pair worker particularly those of us who commute to Boston from Worcester, Duxbury, Methuen, etc.

    1. Charles, I think you hit the NAIL on the head. State and/or Government Inspectors should provide insight to the program and make sure the program guidelines are being adhered to by all parties. This should have been step #1 but was not done. Including au pairs as domestic workers does not solve the problem at hand or offer any additional protections. As per your comments, an investigation into the problem should have been made. In the United States, As citizens, we are born by the fact that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. The Assumption made is that agencies are doing their job and adhering to the program stipulations. Any complaints should have been investigated and if warranted, Oversight (at the State or Federal level) should have occurred to determine which agencies operating in the Commonwealth are in compliance. Those agencies, if found not in compliance, would be given a certain time frame to comply or face removal from operating in the state. I did want to note that you are mistaken in that Au Pairs DO HAVE RECOURSE (domestic workers do not). They actually have additional protections than a domestic worker. If things are not working out, Host families and Au pairs are allowed to rematch, if either party feels the spirit of the program is not being fulfilled. There is also a special State Department hotline that advocate for au pairs which will advocate on their behalf. Lastly, there are concerning disparities between domestic workers and au pairs worth noting. Both parties report continued abuse so it is not as a result of compensation. In fact, including au pairs as domestic workers raises the animosity towards them as they are grossly overvalued and overcompensated to a domestic worker. Domestic workers do not have an advocate who regularly checks in on them to determine how things are going. As stipulated by the program, Au pairs receive significant benefits: paid living expenses, a representative advocate who regularly checks in on them, monthly au pair meetings (which act as a support system for every au pair), housing, food, electricity, car, gas, cellphone and an educational stipend. There are several Au Pair Social Media groups which help support each other. They are highly organized. Domestic workers are not entitled to such benefits. Including au pairs as domestic workers opens the potential for lawsuits within the Commonwealth filed by domestic workers claiming au pairs as a “privileged” class. Au pairs must be between the ages of 18-26 and have limited job functions; where as, domestic workers are not under any age restriction, have more work experience, are not limited in scope of job function and are not entitled to any additional benefits. Domestic workers should be paid a premium to au pairs, NOT MAKING LESS. How would you feel if your employer brought in a foreigner from another country who lacked the same experience, paid all their living expenses, including gas and transportation, and an educational benefit? How can a foreign visitor be treated as a domestic worker and receive additional entitled benefits, not afforded a domestic worker? Domestic workers were justifiably being paid a PREMIUM. This is not a level playing field and fair. This change has completely swayed the balance of fairness and equitability against our own constituents?

  24. If you are not interested in cutting minimum wage, why are aupairs obligated to pay taxes? how is it different from the rest of the expenses that we all have to pay?

  25. Will, how many ‘fair points’ will you concede before reconsidering your opinion?I It certainly does not reflect my opinion based on experience and I suspect that it does not represent the opinions of your well informed constituents. Dig a bit below the surface to see that yours is not a pro-family or pro-labor stance. Sorry, but it protects no one in need and only benefits the Matahari group by eliminating their competition. It fosters stereotypes about class and exploitation already being used by some in your blog
    If you look at the facts, you will see that the benefits of the federally regulated au pair program far exceed the domestic workers rights and are already enforced when violations are reported by any party and there are several enforcement channels, including a Department of State “hotline” that au pairs have for violations.
    For those who do not know, the regulations state that the host family will provide
    Two weeks of paid vacation per year
    One full weekend off per month and at least 1.5 days off per week
    No more than 45 hours in any week for any reason
    Private room and board including 3 meals/7 days per week
    $500 or $1000 (depending on program) towards accredited college or university courses physically attended while here. In addition, paid transportation to get to those classes is also required. Also, use of car and paid car insurance or paid transportation to get to their monthly au pair meetings with local counselor.
    Weekly pay based on federal minimum wage
    The cost of room and board has been assessed by the federal government for all states as 40% of the weekly wage owed. What does it cost to provide nutritious food and a warm, safe and furnished home to your family members? A lot more than most states, but the State of Massachusetts has decided that it costs a family here far far less than the national average. We all know that is not true. The cost of living here (and minimum wage as a result) is well above the national average.
    Will, why are you not working on that discrepancy for your constituents and supporting the bill that brings a host family’s deduction in line with the national average?
    All au pairs have a comprehensive medical insurance while an au pair, and it is better than those of millions of Americans-sadly. The host family contributes to that plan through their agency fee. That fee also includes an au pair’s international travel costs before and after her year in the USA, recruitment, interviewing, background checks, and preparation in home country, as well as visa paperwork costs, 2 day training period in the USA with other new au pairs, and the full support of the agency to au pairs and host families for the year to make sure that things are going well and regulations ARE being followed, including a 24 hour emergency line. Yes, all this does require money, as does the services of an employment agency, a headhunter, a matching service, and an adoption agency to cite a few businesses that make a profit from assisting others in similar ways. Why is an au pair agency looked at differently?

    Beyond the lack of attempt to substantiate abuse of au pairs, what is most painful is those insults that are being hurled at working families of all classes that are choosing to have an au pair live with them because they and that au pair have decided in advance that the year ahead will be mutually beneficial.

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