Unanticipated "Time Off": What Works, What Doesn't, and What's Fair

Wondering what to do when there is unanticipated "time off" and you find yourself *not really* needing your nanny to come in?



PSP has done the math. You’ve punched the numbers. And we know: hiring a nanny is expensive. When it comes to childcare, we know you want to try and keep the costs down when you can.

There are times when you don’t need your nanny to be around: grandma is coming into town. You now work from home once a week. You are taking a 3 week vacation. You are all homebound due to a blizzard. And suddenly (or slowly), you feel yourself resentful or reluctant to pay Mary Poppins for work she isn’t doing.

It’s tempting to consider changing your nanny’s hours and exchange the hours for a later period, like date night or on a weekend.  Or not pay her at all. Or decide that your vacation are her vacation days too.

But what is the “right” thing to do - for you, your nanny, your wallet? How do parents handle these scenarios?

 PSP’s Position:

  • Only consider exchanging IF discussed up front.

  • Exchanging is not all that common, nor should it be used frequently.

  • If you know that you’re likely to be gone for 4 weeks of vacation and your nanny is willing to do an overnight or date nights to make up for one of the weeks, that seems reasonable IF DISCUSSED UP FRONT.

  • Switching hours around frequently isn’t going to work for anyone.

  • Test it out first. Introduce a new nanny who doesn’t quite understand the practicality of the “exchange” wording until it comes up with a 3 day trip out of town and desired exchange.  Then you see how it works (or doesn’t work) in action.

Key takeaways (full threads pasted below):

  • “I look at it from the nanny's point of view [...]. Do what you think is right and keep the golden rule in mind."

  • “your nanny should be not have to compromise her personal time to accommodate your scheduling change.”

  • "While I'd love to switch hours around to benefit my checkbook, I get her point that exchange time merely benefits the employer."

  • “A few hours here or there and who cares either way, it is fair to give each other a little leeway [...] but not three days. It is a fine line. ”

  • “I've worked with 2 nannies and neither one does exchange time for diff reasons. #1 said exchange time was an inconvenience to her with her own kids, since most exchange time is weekends/late nights. #2 said -- I'm available to work so I expect to be paid. It's not my choice you're away.”

  • “We treat it just like my employer treats my [job].  Nobody expects me to make up the time.”

Here are some real life scenarios and responses from our PSP members:


Thread 1, "Nanny Exchange Time Question."


Original Poster:

Hello wise parents,

This has turned into a long email, so I appreciate any of you who read the whole thing and respond to me.

I know this question has come up on the list before (I've searched the archives and read some of the conversations), but I'm a little confused what to do in my particular situation and could use your guidance.

The lovely nanny we've had for four months had to return home suddenly due to a family emergency, so we hired a new nanny who just started two weeks ago. We are VERY happy with the new nanny as well, and used the exact same work agreement for the new nanny that we used with the previous nanny.

We pay off-the-books, a weekly salary at a fair rate, we pay overtime for work over 40 hours a week, we offer two full weeks paid vacation plus 11 holiday days and 5 paid sick days. I crafted our work agreement using the sample work agreement on the Park Slope Parents nanny hiring page. Specifically, I pulled this "exchange" language almost word-for-word:

Other vacation You are likely to receive a number of "extra" days off throughout the year - days where we choose to take the day(s) off and go away with the children; however these extra days vary from year to year and it is hoped that you will be open to switching days/hours to help out that may include date nights, overnights or weekend childcare.

I added the following text at the end of the paragraph in our version:

For example, employer might take a Monday off and ask employee to cover a Friday evening date night in exchange. Exchange time will only occur if schedule is mutually agreeable to employer and employee.

With the previous nanny, we used "exchange time" maybe twice during her four months with us. I stayed home from work a full day, and she stayed late for a date night one night (and I gave her at least a week notice, I think, before I took the day off). It worked out well, and she seemed to feel the arrangement was fair.

The new nanny and I carefully reviewed the agreement together. We sat down and read through every paragraph together, she asked questions, etc. and she returned on her first official day of work with the signed agreement. My husband and I signed as well, and she began work.

I then realized I'm heading out of town in a few weeks for three days, which means she will have three full days (28.5 hours) where she will be paid but will not work. Given how far in advance I knew about this time, I approached her about exchange time. She came back to me and said she was confused about the suggestion that she "work back" her extra time off and that she had never experienced this before with an employer. She was very respectful and polite, and I'm SOOO happy she feels comfortable coming to me when she thinks something is confusing or not fair. I'm a little frustrated, however, that we went through the agreement in detail before and this did not come up until now.

We have since talked about this a couple times and have come to an agreement as to how we will proceed, based on her suggestion that she would rather not have exchange time and would prefer to just go unpaid if we're out of town. So, our new plan: If we give her a week or more of notice about additional time off, we will also suggest an exchange. If she can make the exchange work (or can offer an alternative exchange that can work for us), we will do that. If she prefers not to do the exchange, she will ask to go without pay.

I feel good about our calm respectful conversations to work this out, and I think she has spoken clearly and advocated for what she wants. And she seems genuinely happy with the end result. Frankly, however, I'm surprised she would rather go without pay, and I have to be honest that I do NOT feel good about paying her less than her weekly salary. And after these conversations with her, I went to the list archives to research past conversations and now see that many people feel you should NOT do exchange time at all.

I'm not sure what to do. I only included the "exchange time" in the agreement because I thought it was standard practice, and our first nanny (as well as the share we did before that) seemed quite happy with the arrangement. I was surprised our new nanny had never heard of it, but now I'm reading many families don't do it. Part of me feels like I should just go back to her and say never mind, we'll just strike exchange from the agreement entirely. But I know my husband would not be pleased - he regularly complains how our nanny gets better benefits than he does. So maybe I just stick with the new arrangement of the exchange/unpaid time option and see what happens?

Oy. I'm just so confused now. Anyone have any thoughts?

Thank you!
A mom who wants to be a good employer but goes into the red every week to pay the nanny.


Response 1: Don't expect your nanny to compromise her work schedule - after all, you wouldn't do that at YOUR job.

It sounds like you were thoughtful when approaching your work contract with your caregiver.  However, I strongly feel like when you are altering the agreed upon schedule in the contract (M - F except for the 11 holidays, sick time, etc.), your nanny should be not have to compromise her personal time to accommodate your scheduling change.

For example, when I decide to take off a random day, I don't expect my boss to allow me working on a weekend or evening to compensate for me taking off the random day.  That's not how it works, at least for me and my employer (and every other organization I have ever worked for).  So, if you decide to take off a Monday to, say, go apple-picking, why should your nanny have to agree to work a Saturday, so that you guys can do something sans kids.  It doesn't sound equitable at all, to me.  The schedule and holidays are the schedule and holidays - what you choose to do beyond that shouldn't impact your employee, apart from her getting the paid day off (again, in my opinion)."


Response 2: Any time exchange done should be within a reasonable period of time. 3 days is too much.

I think some exchange time is ok within reason. A few hours here or there and who cares either way, it is fair to give each other a little leeway. But if she is available to work and you don't need her, and she has blocked the time out for you, but you won't need her- I think for the most part she should get paid for the time esp if she is full time and not finding additional work elsewhere regularly. Perhaps if you give her lots of heads up for 3 days off, and you ask for one day as comp time- but not three. It is a fine line. I'm also surprised your nanny opted for unpaid time though.

As for us, our part time sitter mostly has refused our pay for days we gave her advance notice that we wouldn't need her. We try to comp it - pay her and just do a date night another time - but she is honest to a fault and often we round up as a result. I feel like, we blocked out the two afternoons for her to be available so if don't need her, we should pay her anyway. She isn't so sure. Go figure.

PS- I do question your husband's comment that your nanny gets better benefits.  My sense is: If you get healthcare benefits, you get better benefits. I know I'm simplifying things and many people pay their own freight for healthcare these days - but in this very messy time in our country's life healthcare-wise, the difference between have and have-not can come down to whether one emergency will bankrupt you- or not.


Response 3: Time exchange is onesided. It really only benefits YOU.

Hi. I've worked with 2 nannies and neither one does exchange time for diff reasons. #1 said exchange time was an inconvenience to her with her own kids, since most exchange time is weekends/late nights.
#2 said -- I'm available to work so I expect to be paid. It's not my choice you're away.
Conclusion -- we don't do exchange time. We guarantee our nanny x hours a day/ not a week. It's not ideal, but I get her point that she's available to work. However, if we go over 40 hours on a week when we're away a day or two, the nanny doesn't receive overtime since she didn't clock 40+ hours.
I take the view that we pay her a retainer to have her available 8:30-5:30 M-F.  While I'd love to switch hours around to benefit my checkbook, I get her point that exchange time merely benefits the employer.  Therefore, I understand why you feel guilty about not paying her when you're away, since it plays with her finances.
I feel your pain. Nannies are expensive.


Response 4: Look at it from your nanny's point of view; put yourself in her shoes.

"Don't know your specific situation, but exchange time and unpaid time are somewhat unfair if I look at it from the nanny's pov. Ask your husband to put himself in her shoes. And without her being on the books, she likely has no benefits (unemployment/disability). If you guys suddenly go away for a week, what happens then? Your thinking sounds fair. That sample contract sounds a bit off... Many of these nannies have never had an on the books job or reviewed an employment contract... I'm having my own struggle with bank holidays vs actual holidays.... All this is to say- do what you think is right and keep the golden rule in mind."


Thread 2: “Nanny Advice Needed: Swapping Extra Days off for Over-Time Hours?


Original Poster:

We have a few regular work days in the next month or two when we won't need our nanny (bringing baby on a work trip; 4 day weekend). We intend to pay our nanny for those days but were hoping to get a few extra/over-time hours from her in exchange. Do others do this? If so, how do you establish how many over-time hours offset a paid day off? I'd be very curious to understand how other families handle this. Thanks in advance for your input.”


Response 1: you are paying for the privilege of reserving good care. If you are going to do it, see anything you get as bonus.

“We had this situation come up in December, due to a lot of travel and visitors. We considered this situation as different from paid time off, since it was about our convenience/schedule rather than our babysitter's request. As one friend explained their situation, in which they pay their F/T nanny through the summer even when the public school teacher parents don't utilize her services as much, they consider it as paying for the privilege of reserving good care.

We asked our P/T babysitter, quite simply and directly, if she'd be willing to allow us to recoup some of the regularly hours that we were paying for but not utilizing. She said yes, equally as simply and directly. And then we got out the calendar to negotiate. Rather than thinking of it in some sort of ratio (e.g. recouping 1:1 or even 1:2) we just made the assumption that any recoup we got was "bonus" during a particularly hectic time (e.g. trying to prep to go out of town while hosting family in-town) and also an experiment to see how our baby (11 months) would do with an extended day under someone else's care. The one limit that we imposed on ourselves was to negotiate everything up front within a timely manner (e.g. try to recoup hours within the same month) because we didn't want to drive ourselves crazy or leave our babysitter feeling taken advantage of by trying to "chase down" every hour to the last minute until every minute was recouped well into the future.

I've known other folks to take a similar approach (being flexible on the notion of recouping and negotiating in advance) and it has worked well. I'm confident our babysitter would have given us even more hours in recoup had we asked for them (which we didn't b/c we were out of town) as long as they didn't impede on her other P/T position. That said, in the future, I might try to recoup a couple more hours into the next month so we could get back into the swing of things (groceries, laundry, etc) once back in town and so that I could work longer to recoup my own work time (freelance) that utterly dissolved while we were on travel and hosting family.”


Response 2 and 3: No.

“We don't expect our nanny to work extra hours to make up for paid time off (then it wouldn't actually be paid time off). If we don't need our nanny, we still pay her for her time as it's not her fault we don't need her. Likewise, if we need her to stay late or work an evening, we pay her in addition to her normal rate for her extra time.”

"If our nanny has a paid day off because we are away or for a major holiday, it is a paid day off (i.e. she has nothing to make up.)  We treat it just like my employer treats my paid days off; Thanksgiving and Christmas are paid holidays.  Nobody expects me to make up the time."


Response 4: It's not your nanny's choice NOT to work.

You don't rack up "extra" days for those days, since they are days she typically would work and expects to be paid for whether she works or not. She did not choose to take off those days, so she doesn't owe you any "missed time" for them. Unless you have a specific flexible arrangement worked out ahead of time about only paying for days worked, I recommended you do not ask or expect unpaid additional time from her because of your decision to have your kid with you on some of her typical work days.”


Response 5: Keep any request minimal.

“When we have been away for a while, I might request my nanny do a few hours unpaid overtime. Such as perhaps an hour a day for each day she got off. However, usually I request this if she received 2 or more days off and it varies based on if I need it. I don't always request free overtime. We were just away 12/24-1/4 and I requested her to come in on Saturday for 4 hours as a make up.”


Thread 3 (after a bad weather storm):


Original Poster:

“I just wanted to know what everyone's opinion was regarding paying a nanny who never made it in this week. We have a full time nanny who wasn't able to make it to work due to Sandy. I was off, so it had no impact, but I was wondering what everyone is doing in this situation.”


Response 1: Try to frame it based on what your employer would do

“When these questions come up I consider what this situation would be in terms of my own work situation.  That's a bit murky.  My own workplace sent out a notice on Sunday before the storm hit telling us to let our managers know whether we'd be working from home or taking vacation time-- implying that we would not be paid if we didn't or couldn't work from home.  Later they followed up with a correction telling us the office would be closed but we should "feel free" to work from home.  My assumption is that someone realized they'd be liable if they expected people to come to work in the midst of a natural disaster and someone was hurt. This week there's been no power in the office.  Some of us have worked online via the Disaster-Recovery site, others have not been able to.  But I believe no one has had their pay docked.

Now, with a nanny who just can't commute due to mass transit problems, it's not a matter of safety.  But I can tell you I was highly unimpressed by a management attitude of "you're on your own during this crisis and we're docking your pay of you can't make it in".  I would not treat my own employees that way, and I did not treat my own nanny that way.   She works for us afternoons only, and made it in only today.  She probably could have gotten here yesterday but we didn't really need her and didn't ask her to.   I asked her to come a few hours early today, and not only will I pay her for the full week, but I will pay her extra for today's extra time.  Her commute here took twice as long today, her income has been reduced in general, she does well by us, and I want to treat her right. 

By the way, if the nanny is commuting intra-borough, she should be able to make it, even though with some difficulty.  Just as I recommend treating one's employees with understanding and generosity, they should also be expected to make an effort even under adverse circumstances.  My nanny lives in Crown Hts and would be prepared to walk here if necessary-- it would probably take a little over an hour and be less than the walk to work my wife is contemplating tomorrow.  If your nanny can do the same, and if you ask her to come and she does not, perhaps you should not pay her.  But when in doubt, I would advise to act more magnanimously rather than less.”


Response 2: Always pay; your nanny depends on the income you committed to paying her.

“We will, 100% and without question, pay our nanny in full this week. We do a share, and it never even crossed any of our minds to do anything else. We have a signed contract that stipulates a minimum pay per week. It's not her fault she couldn't make it in, I was off work so it was no hindrance for me to handle the kiddo. And honestly, while we aren't wealthy by any measure, I think about what the nanny makes, and can't imagine how she will pay her rent, and bills, docked two days' pay that she couldn't help.”


Response 3: If you get paid, pay your nanny.

“I think, if you were paid, you should pay the nanny. If you were docked, then it's a bit more nuanced.”


Response 4: Some things are out of your control.

“You mention you were off (obviously due to the hurricane). Will *you* be paid? Seems to me that if you feel entitled to a paycheck because it's a salaried position and matters were beyond your control, then the nanny could make the same argument. Of course a lot of us are freelancers who don't have the luxury of knowing the paycheck will arrive no matter what. However, it seems to me that the nanny is more like a salaried employee: She's set aside other needs and opportunities to reserve this time to work for you, in exchange for a reliable income. That bargain isn't altered because her work circumstances are difficult for a few days.

So I don't mind the usual daycare bill this week even though they were closed Tuesday; didn't mind paying the nanny, when we had one, even during a week when snow stopped her from coming for a day or two.”


Response 5: Pay.

"I think the answer to this one is of course you pay the nanny for the week. My husband and I both teach -- we were both off this week, and we both still got paid."


Response 6:

“Even as someone who is an independent contract employee (specialty teacher in preschools), and will not be paid for the hours I lost this week, I heartily agree that you should pay your nanny if you can and anyone else who normally works for you on an hourly or contract basis (house keeper etc) as they really count on that money. I will be paying my sitter for sure. “


Disclaimer: This post has been written for educational purposes only by Park Slope Parents and is not meant to be legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice or be relied upon. The post may contain errors, inaccuracies and/or omissions. We recommend checking with a professional for specific advice.