A few weeks ago, a horrific tragedy made headlines when Yoselyn Ortega, a nanny employed in Manhattan, was accused of killing two of the children in her care. In response, reporters from all over the country began covering the story. Parents took to social media to express their sympathy and outrage for the senseless deaths of these two children and to try to make sense of how such a gruesome crime could have been committed by a woman who was, by all accounts, loved and trusted by the parents of her alleged victims. For a brief moment, the issue of the complicated nanny-employer relationship was on our radar.
And then Hurricane Sandy came. And then it was Election Day. And the events giving rise to the deaths of two children, allegedly at the hands of their nanny, stopped getting front-page coverage. But today I want to remind everyone of this horrible story. Today I am going to force the conversation that was started and never finished. Because what happened to this family in New York should haunt us all, and it should make those of us who employ nannies pause and reevaluate how we view and treat the people who care for those who are most precious to us.
I want to begin by saying that I do not blame the parents of the victims in this case, nor have I read anything that would suggest that they did anything wrong. Moreover, even if they had mistreated their nanny or failed to heed warning signs, that obviously would provide no justification or excuse for the brutal murder of two children. However, this story has brought to light issues that I confront on both a personal and professional basis and so I want to pose the following questions to those of you who employ nannies:
Have you ever seen where your nanny lives? Have you met the people with whom your nanny lives? Did you do a background check on your nanny or did you rely on past employer referrals? Do you treat your nanny as you (or your partner) expect to be treated by your employer (for example, do you follow all wage and hour laws, including paying overtime)? How much do you pay your nanny…and could you survive on that wage? Do you give your nanny raises on a regular basis? Do you give your nanny any paid time off? Do you care (or even know) if your nanny is eligible to work in the United States?
As a mom of a toddler and as a domestic employment lawyer, I have talked to hundreds of families who employ nannies. And even the most vigilant parents can turn a blind eye when it comes to really knowing the person who cares for their children when they are not at home.
I am also often taken aback by the attitude that many parents take regarding the payment of wages to their nanny. I find that some families resent the amount of money they must pay to hire a nanny and, as a result, tend to pay as little as possible to get the job done. I understand all too well the financial strain that childcare costs can become – in my own home, my mortgage is the only expense greater than what we pay to our nanny. And we feel it. But what could be more important than making sure that the person who is with my son all day long feels that she is being treated fairly? Not to mention the fact that I know what it takes to spend an entire day with my child and, as much as I adore him, there is no question that it is work that deserves to be well compensated.
So this is my challenge to all of you: get to know your nanny. Find out something about her that you didn't know before. Look at her as a person with a full life, and not just the person who shows up to your house to help you lead your full life each day. Try to be more in tune. Do you think she is emotionally stable and competently managing her affairs? Reevaluate what you pay her. Does it seem fair? Would you care for someone else's child for that amount of money? If not, see what you can give up in order to give her a raise.
And then, tell your nanny thank you. And mean it.