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Au Pairs Present Special Risks For Family Employers

An au pair is suing her former employer for sexual harassment after he allegedly touched her inappropriately and tried to have a sexual relationship with her.

According to documents filed in the lawsuit, in 2017, the 57-year-old employer hired the 19-year-old Polish teenager to help his 12-year-old son with homework and to do other chores around the house.

Within a month of hiring her, the employer allegedly began interacting with the au pair inappropriately, allegedly creating a hostile work environment. 

The au pair also alleges that she had to work 15 hours per day performing tasks outside of what she was hired to do, such as preparing three meals each day. She alleges that the employer only paid her $2,050 for 613 hours of work.

The former au pair is suing the employer for creating a hostile work environment, failing to pay her overtime, and other violations. The employer allegedly texted the au pair, after she contacted him about unpaid wages, that he was considering calling immigration officials on her. Stephen Rex Brown, "Former CEO . . . harassed his Polish au pair: lawsuit" nydailynews.com (Apr. 03, 2019).

Commentary and Checklist

Au pairs present a unique and high risk for family employers because they are usually older teen employees from another culture and they work and stay in the family home.

The risk of sexual misconduct claims, including sexual harassment, is high. There is higher risk for hostile work environment claims when employees are asked to stay and sleep in a family home, like most au pairs. Juries may be sympathetic to an au pair making charges of sexual harassment in such environments. 

Many au pairs are in the United States for the first time and are alone. Consequently, they are potentially vulnerable to predatory actions of staff and possibly family. This presents a unique risk to family employers and a risk of criminal charges as well.

Additionally, au pairs present a unique wage and hour risk. Many do not "clock in" like other staff, and they are frequently asked to "pitch in" with domestic work or additional child care without notice. As a result, it is harder to defend wage and hour claims made by au pairs because there may not be accurate records of time worked.

Finally, au pairs, like temporary workers, may have dual employment between the family and the au pair agency. Consequently, both the family and the agency may have a responsibility for how the au pair is treated.

Here are some tips for working with au pairs:

  • Closely review the agreement with the agency. Know what the family is responsible for and what the agency is responsible as to the health, welfare and safety of the au pair.
  • Require the au pair to receive employment training including training on sexual harassment and sexual assault.
  • Require the au pair to "clock in" for work.
  • Do not interfere with the au pair's free time.
  • Do not require the au pair to work beyond what was agreed to in the agency agreement.
  • Make certain that the au pair knows who to communicate to with issues regarding other staff, family or third parties to the family workplace including issues regarding harassment and other sexual misconduct.
  • Make sure that the au pair is paid at least minimum wage. Be very careful about deductions because of rent, food and other aspects of living with the family.
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