The first week or month of employment is decisive for both the employer and the helper. This is the period where you will get to know each other and where the helper will spend days on training and familiarizing herself with the family she is now working for. Her cultural background will be different, her native language and her way of doing her job as well. Be ready to manage her from the start and to be open to differences without compromising your own ethics and values.
It is important to clearly define your house rules on the first day of employment and to give your helper a copy that she can refer to whenever she wants to. Include not only the number and nature of tasks you expect her to do, but also rules such as quiet time when the children sleep, personal hygiene, mobile phone usage, safety-related matters, loaning money and so on. This may seem tedious, but the more you discuss on the first day, the more likely it is that you will avoid problems afterwards.
As with any employment, employers should give their domestic helpers a basic job description. Write down your foreign domestic helper’s daily working hours and the hours of her day off – at least 24 hours consecutively according to the law. Include a section on the usage of Wi-Fi, the mobile phone and internet, but be reasonable. Instead of forbidding her to use the phone the entire day, let her know at what times she can check it like during her morning or lunch break and at what times she cannot, like when she is attending to the children.
If your house has multiple doors and windows that you would like to have open, let your helper know what your preferences are. Should all windows be opened in the morning and closed at night? If she leaves the house to buy some food, should she close all the windows or leave them open? Should she bolt the door only at night or also during the day? How should she handle her key? Can she bring people over the house when your family is out of town? Can she stay out on the night before her day off or on her day off and if so, what are the procedures? Make sure that all people in the family follow the same rules to avoid confusion.
House rules must be in accordance with Hong Kong laws
An employer may have his or her own house rules, but the employer’s rules need to be in accordance with the Immigration and Labour Department regulations and laws. For example, your house rules cannot require your helper to work for a lower salary than the minimum wage for domestic workers, to work for another person, to perform duties on her day off, to live at another address and so on. Foreign domestic helpers have mostly the same rights and protection as local employees (maybe except for the minimum wage) and are covered by the Employment Ordinance. An employer cannot and should not reduce any right, benefit or protection of the helper. Therefore, you cannot have a house rule which prohibits your helper from getting pregnant or else she will face termination. That said, an employer is free to offer his or her domestic helper better employment terms and provisions at the time of job application and include these in the house rules so that their helper will be motivated on the long term.
Discuss Hong Kong law and culture
Within the first days, it is important to sit down with your helper and to go over the employment contract again. What is allowed by the Labour Department and what is not? Make a copy of the employment visa, but do not keep your helper’s passport as this is not legal. Discuss other domestic helper rules and laws in Hong Kong as set by the government. Let her know potential consequences for breaking the conditions of her employment visa so that she realizes that Hong Kong’s law system is different from that of her home country. Finally, discuss the local lifestyle such as the transports she can take, and teach her some basic Cantonese phrases so she can go to the market and carry out basic tasks.
Quite a few domestic helpers are too afraid to tell their employer when they break something so it is important for the employer to let the helper know that accidents can always happen and that she should tell you if something breaks. Also tell her what she should do if your children have a minor injury or if they are sick. Should she call you or another person or take them immediately to the doctor? Include the contact information of every person that she could need including government departments, medical and other emergencies as well as your work and personal number. Write down what the procedures are in case she cannot reach you.
Sit down with your helper again in a few months to discuss the rules over again. Of course, if she has opinions regarding the rules before that, you can accept her suggestions if they are reasonable.
Communication should be continued after the first week, especially when the helper’s performance has visibly become worse and regarding financial issues often caused by using an unethical employment agency.