Managing your Domestic Helper in Hong Kong

Foreign domestic helpers leave their country and children behind to work overseas in order to support their family, which is definitely difficult for every parent. As an employer, you can support your helper by helping her get accustomed to Hong Kong and your family. To become a good employer, you should understand all the rights and obligations of you and the domestic helper. In addition to this, communication is key in maintaining a healthy and long-term employment relationship with your domestic helper.

Help your domestic helper settle in

Define and explain the house rules

It is good to let your domestic helper know your stance on situations early on, preferably in the first week of her employment. What you can do to avoid misunderstanding and confusion is that you can sit down with your domestic helper on the first day and explain her your house rules. You can give her a clear schedule of the day, and tell her your expectations of her, such as how you would like your clothes to be ironed, and how you will handle issues such as taking out loans. Sometimes domestic helpers may not be able to perform some tasks due to their religion, or you have special rules at home due to your religion. Make this clear at the beginning of her work is important as well.

Remind the helper of work safety

Domestic helpers are usually from a less developed area and thus they may not be familiar with working at a high-rise environment and using advanced electronic appliances. There have been incidents happening when domestic helpers cleaning windows. As an employer, you have the responsibility to guarantee your helper’s work safety.

Communicate with your family members

Even though you are a well-meaning employer, if your family members are not on the same page, it can give your domestic helper a hard time. It is especially hard to manage when there are three generations in the house – you, your children and your parents. Your children can be spoilt by your domestic helper and end up treating her like a servant. Your elderly parents might be more old-fashioned in their thinking and frustrated with your domestic helper because of the language barrier.

To avoid that, firstly you have to formally introduce your domestic helper to all of them, letting them know that she is going to join your family. Secondly, you also need to communicate your expectations of your family members to them. Domestic helpers should be an assist role in the family, it is important to educate your children not to rely on the helper for every daily chore. Thirdly, you should also inform your domestic helper about how you expect her to treat your family members.

Know domestic helpers’ rights

Domestic helper’s health matters

Although in Hong Kong there is no regulation about domestic helpers’ working hours, we strongly encourage you to provide your helper with a proper work schedule to ensure your domestic helper having enough rest. Having too many tasks will lead to burn out. At that time, you will be the one to shoulder all of your helper’s medical expenses and will be lack of help with managing your household. Review your domestic helper working schedule regularly so that she can have enough time and energy to achieve all the tasks.

Domestic helpers in Hong Kong have maternity rights. Helper pregnancy is a hot topic among employers as this may affect the helper’s work performance. Instead of forcing your helper to get a contraceptive injection, what you can do is having a candid conversation with your helper about pregnancy. If you feel embarrassed to discuss this topic, don’t worry. PathFinders, an NGO in Hong Kong, provides both employers and domestic helpers with information on how to handle the situation and access to public resources.

Manage the employment relationship

Regular and open communication

Communication is key to every interpersonal relationship, so obviously not excluding that between you and your domestic helper. However, unlike other interpersonal relationships, where there are usually social conventions telling you how you should treat or address someone, in the case of you and your domestic helper, there are no real standards of how you should communicate with your domestic helper. Your domestic helper is both your family member and your employee. Should you impose more rules on her as if she was one of your children? Should you give her a lot of freedom as if she was your normal employee? Should you inquire about her personal matters? These are all questions in the grey area. Therefore, to know the answer to those questions, it depends very much on how your relationship develops. Some might develop to become friends, some might develop into a friendly employer-employee relationship, some might develop into a master-slave relationship. And how the relationship develops totally depends on your and your domestic helper’s attitudes.

Draw the line between being an employer and being a friend

Most employers keep a distance from their domestic helpers, lest their domestic helpers would turn “lazy” because of their closeness to their employers. It is a valid concern, but it does not have to be that way. As an employer, you can be empathetic, curious about your domestic helper’s personal problems, and not want to be called Sir Ma’am, and it does not mean that you are your domestic helper’s friend. As an employer, you still need to set clear rules and requirements for your domestic helper, so that she will understand that you are her employer and expect her to finish her duties. It might be hard to grasp if you are a new domestic helper employer, but as you spend more time together, you will figure out at one point what role you want to play.

Give your domestic helper freedom and mutual respect

It is important to give your domestic helper freedom and personal privacy. In most cases, she is an adult already, and in some cases, she might even be older than you. You can give her absolute freedom on issues such as what she does on her day off and her internet usage in her free time. On some issues, you might want to restrict a bit of her freedom, such as what time she comes back home on her rest day and how much money she should use on grocery shopping for you. In some cases, you will need to set every strict guideline with her, such as on what values she should raise your children in and what time your aged parents should eat. These are just some suggestions; you might want to adjust based on your principles.

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