How to Fire Your Nanny

Finding childcare is difficult. It's hard to know, with your first kid, what to look for, and harder still to know, through interviews and trial runs, whether what you're seeing is in fact, what you'll get.

The context is this: S is 8 months old. Since she was 3 months old, "Heidi" has been caring for her. We host a nanny share in our home, and Heidi, who has nearly a decade of experience as a nanny, has been loving, sweet, and responsive to both babies. Heidi has also been falling asleep -- literally -- on the job.

The first time this happened, we brushed it off. The second time, we talked to her about it. The third time, we warned her, and the fourth time, we gave her her final warning (if this sounds like a lot of warnings, it just goes to show you how much we actually did like her). Monday, home for lunch, I shared with Heidi the terrifying news that there had been an attempted kidnapping in Hyde Park. Monday, at day's end, B and the other parents walked through our unlocked front door to find Heidi sound asleep on the playroom floor. S was sleeping, too. The other baby was not. After rousing her (more difficult than it should have been), sending her home for the afternoon, and a brief panic attack on my part, we called to fire her. There's not a lot of online direction for how to handle this, so here's our experience:

Step One: Lay out clear expectations.
For example: "Heidi, we expect that you will provide for the girls a safe environment, with a locked door." or "Heidi, we expect that you will perform your duty as nanny by staying AWAKE and caring for the girls."

Step Two: Create an environment for success.
S can be a difficult sleeper. Though she doesn't require her caregiver to lay with her, she does still need to be put to sleep, and Heidi had trouble getting her to continue to nap when she was lying along (S naps on a pallet of blankets on the floor). We did what we could to offer Heidi quiet entertainment options for this downtime: books, a TV in the playroom, an account on B's MacBook.

Step Three: Be firm in warning about behavior.
There's little to be done by way of discipline, right? We weren't going to dock her pay, and there was little else I could think of to ensure she heard our concerns. It actually seemed (the fourth time, her final warning) that she understood us. She was apologetic -- she cried, in fact, which was difficult -- though there was a degree of defensiveness and she did lay some of the blame on wee S and her high-need sleep patterns. But she seemed to understand.

Step Four: Do not freak out.
Luckily, I was in my office Monday. All three other parents arrived at our house at the same time, and two of the three (my B is the most level-headed human on the planet) FREAKED OUT. The other dad, flabbergasted, simply grabbed his baby and fled. The other mom, in tears, called me. Had I been in the room, I would have fired Heidi on the spot, and it would have been a challenge to do so without a certain, embarrassing degree of angry hysteria.

It had been a difficult day overall and this news sent me over the edge. For the second time in my life, I had a panic attack, steadying myself against a tree on 58th street, trying to breathe against dizziness and nausea, sweating and shaking. (Where Step Four is concerned, I failed. B did not.)

Step Five: Follow through.
We'd given her a final warning and we'd been clear about it. We parents all conferred and agreed the only next step was to let Heidi go. So B (the reasonable one, capable of having a conversation without swear words, in a normal tone of voice) made the call, and kept it short and simple.

Here's a script:
"Heidi, you [insert unacceptable behavior here]. This is something we've talked about before and we've been clear about our expectations and the consequences of you not meeting them. At this point, we're going to have to let you go." End scene.

Step Six: Drink.
I opened a bottle of wine. I ate some Halloween candy with said wine. Despite the giant monkey wrench now thrown into our working and personal lives, I felt satisfied. My gut told me -- still tells me -- that this was the right decision, that my job as S's mom is to make sure she's safe and well cared for. And, though we loved Heidi for many reasons, not a single one of those reasons is compelling enough to overlook the fact that we could no longer trust her with our kid.

So Step Seven? Be proud.
Because it sucks to fire anyone, and it really sucks to have to fire someone who has, for all intents and purposes, become a part of your family. It's messy and difficult. But a good parent is capable of making difficult decisions, and a good person is likely to feel pretty crappy about it. But you know what's best for your family, just as I know what's best for mine.

For the record, we were under "contract" and paid Heidi two weeks' severance. We are also lucky enough to have friends and family nearby, so we've put together a patchwork of childcare providers for the next couple of weeks while we plot our next move.

And there you have it. A step-by-step guide to how to fire your nanny. Stay tuned.

Filed under: Parenting


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    This was definitely not an easy situation to get through, but as you said, the big picture is S's safety. No matter how much a parent likes his/her childcare option, there will be some deal breakers. I think some unpleasantness and disruption in a daily routine is much better than something major happening later on. Listen to your gut parents.

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    This sounds like a terrible experience for all of you. I am so glad you stuck to your guns and did what was best for S. I'm happy to know you have a support network to help for a couple of weeks and I'm sure S and the other baby will be none the worse for wear! Every parent should be confident that the person(s) caring for their children is competent and alert and S is lucky to have you and B looking out for her!

  • Thanks, folks. A week later, it's still feeling like the right decision, so I'm happy to have felt empowered to make it.

  • I. If you have a progressive discipline policy in your nanny contract or elsewhere in your nanny’s terms and conditions of employment, you should follow your policy.
    II. Check with an employment law specialist attorney in your state to understand the laws that govern employee discharges in your area.
    III. If you don’t have a policy on how discipline is to be handled, your attorney will generally advise that you should proceed via the following steps.
    A. Assemble as many facts as reasonably possible about the behaviors that your nanny exhibits that make her a poor fit for your family. What specifically does she do? On what dates has she done it? Where has she done it? Have there been witnesses? These and other questions can help you nail down the specifics of the behaviors that concern you.
    B. Put everything in writing. Document all the answers to the questions in “A” above.
    C. Calmly and non-judgmentally visit with your nanny about the behaviors you’ve observed as compared to the behaviors that you expect. Make sure that your nanny understands why your expectations are set the way they are. Ask your nanny if she has an explanation that makes her behaviors make sense to you. After your nanny has had an opportunity to tell her side of the story, let her know that you and your spouse need to visit about all that has been said. Ask her to give you about an hour (or however long you think you’ll need) and then come back to finish the discussion with you.
    D. When your nanny has temporarily departed, document the conversation in “C” above and discuss with your spouse how to handle your nanny. Does she need to be re-trained on your expectations? Does she need a verbal warning? Does she need a written warning? Is this offense serious enough for termination on first offense? If this is not the first offense, is there a sufficient paper trail (i.e., documentation that you have spoken with your nanny before about her behaviors as they vary from your expectations) to support a discharge at this time? If you and your spouse conclude that letting your nanny go is the best course of action, then you need to decide how you wish to handle that discharge. If she is a live-in nanny, how will you handle her moving her personal belongings out of your house? Does your state have laws on the payment of final wages, dismissal statements, and other matters? How will you tell your kids that their nanny is no longer employed by the family? How will you handle childcare during the time between this nanny’s departure and the next nanny’s hire date? (Note: make sure you properly estimate the time it will take to recruit, interview, screen, and hire a new nanny.)
    E. When your nanny returns, calmly and concisely tell her that you have decided to let her go. Let her know how her separation will be handled moving forward (i.e., when and how she will receive her final paycheck, etc.). Ask her if she has any questions. Give her a chance to feel heard. Then, end the meeting on a professional note. Do not at any time express anger or let your emotions get the better of you.
    F. After your nanny has departed, visit with your kids. Tell them briefly that their nanny no longer works for your family. Let them know what to expect of their near-term future (i.e., who will be attending to them until a new nanny is hired).
    G. Follow up on any promises you made to your nanny about her dismissal. For example, if you promised to hire a moving service to pack her personal belongings in your home and move them back to her community of origin, then you need to make such arrangements promptly.

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    Could not be prouder of your decision - you always want the person caring for your child to care for her like you would! xoxo

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