Firing a household worker.

So, yesterday, I posted the basics about how to find and start working with a househelp.

Today, let’s talk about how to be smart when you’re letting one go. Unless you are coming here to replace someone and their helper is going to continue on with you, there is a good chance you may need to fire at least one helper while you’re here. They may not pick up on what you’re trying to teach them. They may not do a thorough job. They may run up a huge bill on the house phone. They may steal food or jewelry. They may talk badly about you to your other household staff. They may be trying to be too involved with the inner workings of the family. They may not respect your family’s privacy and talk about you to the neighbors or their household staff.  We’ve personally had to let people go for most of these reasons, and I’ve had friends who’ve dealt with others. Some were still in their trail period. Some had been with us for months.

Even if you are hiring an experienced helper, they may simply not mesh well with your family. If this is the case, they usually feel it, too. If their work is ok, and you’d feel comfortable recommending them to someone else, you may want to let them know they just aren’t a good fit and offer to help them find a position with someone else. Even if this is the case, it may be a good idea to have them move out immediately. If your helper has a place they go to stay on their days off, then they should be able to go there. If not, then you may want to find another place for her to go before you broach the subject with her, and offer it to her as an option: “We appreciate your work with our family, but it doesn’t feel like a good fit. If you like, we have found a position for you working for the Smiths. They are a family of 4 who need a helper right away. If you like, we can get you to their home this evening. Or, you can go home and I can let you know if I hear of someone else who needs help.” Home may mean back to the provinces, in which case, you should be ready to pay to send her there. DO NOT just fire a woman from the provinces with no where to stay around your area and dump her on the streets.

This is the best case scenario with a firing. Things just aren’t working well. They are a good worker, just not a fit for you. You help them find someone else to work for. Done.

It doesn’t often go that well. Usually, people are fired from their position as a helper because they’ve screwed up in some way. Stealing is not infrequent. I haven’t heard of issues with yayas (nannies) for foreigners who have been fired for hitting children, but I have heard stories from several of my local friends who have had to fire yayas that were abusive. Sometimes you’re just the first person they’ve worked for as a helper and it hasn’t sunk in yet that you really do mean that you want your house cleaned to a certain standard, not just feather dusted and swept for 20 minutes and called good. In all of these sorts of situations, there is the chance that things can get ugly fast. If you are prepared, the chances of it going downhill are far less.

Some steps you can take to make sure things stay civil:

1. Most communities expats find themselves living in have a robust security service. Call security, tell them you plan to fire a household helper, and would like them to send someone over and wait outside at the time you intend to fire her. Make sure they are in place before you begin. He doesn’t need to come in the house at this point, but you want to have quick access just in case. If, at any time, things start to get ugly, then he’s right there for you.

2. If you have a household staff, make sure you talk to your helper privately. You and your spouse should both be present. I’ve fired staff on my own, and it has not gone well. There seems to be the belief that I am just being a meanie, and if my husband was there, he’d stop me. If you are both present, it is clear that you are united in the decision to let her go. If you have this talk in front of other staff members, it is extra humiliating. Filipinos do not handle being disciplined in front of others well, at all. (Most people don’t, really, if you think about it.)

3. Explain why you are firing her, and what the consequences will be. In some communities, you can have people placed on no-hire lists. Then, if they try to get a job with someone else in the community, they will check their name against the list before offering them an employment id. If they were stealing or abusive, you should have their name placed on that list. If they simply weren’t up to snuff, you may not want to put their name on that list. They may do better next time, or they may find a position in a house with 5 helpers where their less than stellar cleaning skills would have less of an impact. If they have a community ID from working with you, you need to get that from her before she leaves, even if you won’t be putting her name on the no-hire list.

4. Tell her that she needs to pack up and leave immediately. If she has any pay due to her, pay it. If she has a place to stay on her days off, then she should be fine to go there. If she is from the provinces and has no where to go on her days off, then you should offer to pay for her flight or bus ticket back. Have that cost researched already. DO NOT fire a woman with no where to go and just dump her on the streets.

5. Give her a reasonable amount of time to pack up and say good bye to the other staff members. If she’s taking too long, call the security guard into the house and ask him to help move her along. His presence should be enough to get her to hustle. I’ve never seen a guard need to get physical.

6. Search her bags before she leaves. I know, I know… This feels ooky to most westerners. But it really does need to be done. Especially if they were accused of theft, and even if they weren’t fired for theft. And, you may not realize this, but even with the village IDs, household workers’ bags are searched every time they enter or exit your village anyway. They are used to having their things searched. Do not skip this step. Trust me.

7. Now you have a choice. You can have her escorted out of the village by security. If you have a driver, you can have him take her to where she can get a bus or jeepney to where she needs to go. If you like, you can just have him drop her off there with the money she’ll need to pay her fare, or you can have him buy the ticket for her and make sure she gets on the bus. Likewise, if she will need to fly, handle all of this early in the day, have him take her to the airport and buy the ticket for her.

This is all sort of worst-case-scenario stuff. We’ve had to fire a handful of helpers in the past and it’s only gotten to the point where we required security once. The rest were disappointed, some even got very grumpy about it, but ultimately understood and moved on. If you didn’t see the link to this post about the laws regarding hiring and firing kasambahay, I strongly suggest you read it, and click through to review the actual law that its author links to.

Don’t let the thought that you might have to fire someone and it might not be a fun time deter you from hiring someone. We had a rough start with our first helpers, and then found a great woman to work for us until she “retired” due to her pregnancy. After a few false starts, we found another great woman who has worked for us since then. It really is a blessing to have house help. You just need to remember, once again, that it’s an employment relationship, and sometimes those have to come to an end.


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