When school and after-school care were cancelled because of the coronavirus, a significant portion of my income was cancelled too. I am self-employed and balance life as a freelance writer, public speaker/educator, and housekeeper. Half of my work can’t be done from home, and if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. I can’t go into schools, businesses, or community centers to teach right now. I can’t remotely clean someone’s home; Zoom doesn’t work that way. I, and so many hands-on service providers, are out of work without pay. We have families to support and our income has suddenly dried up. I agree that social distancing is the right measure to take. However, if your income has not been impacted by this pandemic, the next right thing to do is to continue paying the service providers that you rely on.
Now is not the time to complain about a dirty house or loss of childcare for your kids while also counting your blessings for at least “saving a few bucks” during the pandemic. You had already budgeted money or paid for services. Please don’t ask for a refund or suspend payment. The people you depend on to make your life easier or manageable depend on you to be able to pay their rent and put food on the table.
House cleaners, childcare providers who are nannies or run programs out of their home, and other small business service providers like dog trainers, dance teachers, music instructors, and other independent service providers don not get sick pay, vacation time, or paid leave. What may seem like a luxury or extracurricular activity for you and your family is food, housing, and healthcare for ours.
It broke my heart when I had to email clients to let them know that I would be doing the responsible thing and not showing up to clean their houses. My first thought was about the relationship I have with them. I have been cleaning for some clients for over ten years, but even newer clients are valuable to me beyond financial gain. I care about the families I work for, and I felt like I let them down. If you have a reliable cleaner, nanny, or hair stylist, I promise you that they feel the same way. We cherish our relationships and take pride in our work. The right thing for all of us to do right now, in the interest of preserving public health, is to follow CDC guidelines.
You do not want us in your home, and we are nervous to be there. A “no-show, no-pay” attitude shouldn’t be used right now. That is not what this is.
Please look at us as people with homes of our own, kids, and bills to pay. Look at us like you look at yourself and not simply the services you are missing out on.
How many times have you canceled on your cleaner because you were working from home with a sick kid? Have you ever told your cleaner not to bother showing up because you and your family were on vacation? Have you skipped trying to adjust an afternoon around the holidays or summer break to make way for your cleaning person because it was “too much work” to have them come over? Did you pay them for those times?
Has your privilege blinded you to the fact that your salaried income stayed the same while you created financial insecurity for someone else? Your inconvenience or flippant response does not match your professed love of the people who make your life easier and better. Even while we are all being impacted by the risks associated with COVID-19, it’s important to recognize that some of us still have privilege over others. And if you are in a position to help without sacrificing your own food and financial securities, it is imperative that you do so.
Before I added freelancing and public speaking to my resume, I ran a cleaning business full-time. I know I am in a place of privilege now to still be able to earn some money while home, but so many people I know only have their cleaning income to pay bills. I am worried about my own loss, but I am sick over theirs. Many of us don’t have saving plans, affordable healthcare, or the peace of mind to know when this loss of income will end. Many of us are at risk of losing our house, car, etc. This is not a fault of laziness or irresponsible living. In many cases it’s a fault of our broken economic system.
Domestic workers like home care workers, house cleaners, and childcare providers make up about 2.5 million people in the United States. Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) said this when advocating for a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights Act: “Domestic workers are one of the fastest growing work forces in our country. They provide essential care and support to aging parents, people with disabilities, children, and homes.”
If your income has not been affected by the pandemic, please pay your house cleaner or other service providers their wages. If your income has been reduced a certain percentage, consider reaching out to your house cleaner or nanny and suggest payment that has been reduced by the same amount. Consider this overdue paid leave, or even the security of maintaining a dependable relationship with the person who often juggles their schedule to accommodate yours.
We go out of our way to make sure you are happy with our work because your satisfaction means we can make rent and buy groceries. But we also deserve respect and consideration and we will find it with someone else who sees us as more than a clean bathroom or “babysitter.”
If you are wondering whether you should continue to pay your house cleaner or childcare provider, the answer is yes. You are their employer, and just like you need your employer to keep paying you while we navigate this pandemic, we need you to keep paying us.