Just like any employer-employee relationship, your relationship with your domestic worker also has its own set of protocols and etiquettes that are important to maintain. There are things you should and shouldn't do if you want to maintain a healthy and productive relationship with her. Below, we discuss some tips to keep in mind, regardless of where you are in your domestic worker hiring process.
Do: Plan ahead in your budget with your domestic worker's expenses in mind
Hiring a full-time domestic worker is a sizable investment costing over S$13,000 a year. If you decide you need to hire a full-time helper, you should take at least a day or two to talk to your family about how it will impact you financially. Then, you can try to figure out a new budget (for a few months or a year ahead of time) to see how you should rebalance your finances.
Writing down your new budget with your domestic worker in mind will bring some sense of predictability and help you keep expenses in control even in cases of emergencies. By accounting for your domestic helper's expenditures in your monthly budget, you can avoid situations like not having enough cash to pay your worker at the end of the month or pay for her medical expenses (some medical procedures aren't covered by her insurance), and even potentially going into debt in order to make your ends meet.
Do: Conduct thorough due diligence on your maid agency and potential workers
Choosing the right maid agency and domestic worker is half the battle to getting the help you need. In most cases, the better the maid agency, the better their domestic workers. Start off your search by looking at accredited agencies on the Ministry of Manpower's directory and choosing agencies based on their retention, transfer and placement rates. You can also read forums to get a sense of which agencies people are talking about—in a negative or positive light. A good agency will charge you a fair price and have good follow-up service, which can be an indispensable help when you have a problem with your worker and don't know who to turn to.
Once you've narrowed down your maid agency choices, carefully vetting your domestic workers and conducting multiple interviews will help you choose a worker that will best match your needs. If you can, try setting up interviews in your home so your interviewee can see the conditions she'll be working in. Some of the questions you can ask are what her job expectations are, if she can handle the workload, what she likes to do on her time off (to gauge her personality) and any other questions that will help you get a feel for what kind of employee she'll be. However, you should trust your gut if you think the domestic worker is exaggerating or if something doesn't feel right—at the end of the day, you should be hiring someone who fits your expectations and makes you feel comfortable. A good domestic worker will be enthusiastic and ready to learn and will give you the help you need.
Do: Be a responsible employer and a proactive boss
Because domestic workers aren't covered by the Ministry of Manpower's Employment Act, employers end up taking on most of the legal responsibility for their domestic helpers, including the their health care and miscellaneous expenses. You are also have to follow the Ministry of Manpower's employer regulations by giving your worker a rest day every week or month (you can suggest wholesome activities or classes for her to do if you are wary about leaving her unsupervised), paying her wages on time and knowing what to do in the event of runaways, abuse and theft (i.e. call the police or cancel her work permit). Following these laws will prevent headaches and legal troubles in the event of a dispute between you and your worker.
If this is your first time employing a domestic worker and you are nervous about what to expect, you can properly set your expectations by talking with friends and family who have experience working with domestic helpers. If you are completely new to managing other people, there are plenty of resources available that can give you insight on how to be a good employer while ensuring she remains a productive employee. At the same time, you should be realistic. Even if you trust your domestic worker, you are still letting a stranger into your home; if you want to prevent theft, you should generally keep your most valuable possessions hidden or locked. Lastly, don't abuse your domestic worker psychologically, financially or physically; you'll end up getting caught and face tens of thousands of dollars in fines, jail-time and being blacklisted from hiring in the future.
Don't: Get the bare minimum maid insurance coverage
While it is tempting to choose the most basic maid insurance coverage, it is strongly recommended you opt for above minimum coverage. Since you are hiring someone who is completely new to Singapore (unless you are hiring a transfer domestic worker), there is a greater risk for miscommunication or accidents, leading to hefty hospital or liability bills. Comprehensive maid insurance will cover more than the minimum S$15,000 hospitalization expenses required by the Ministry of Manpower, provide theft and liability protection and offer miscellaneous coverage for things like rehiring, termination and temporary help. If cost is an issue, there are some great budget-friendly options that will provide you with ample coverage without breaking your bank.
Don't: Sacrifice her safety for housework
It's understandable that you want to maintain a certain level of cleanliness in your home. However, bear in mind there are certain regulations in place preventing you from letting your domestic worker do certain work (i.e. cleaning windows from the outside of a 10th floor or higher apartment) unsupervised. This is for both your and her well-being as there have been reports of domestic workers falling to their deaths after not having the proper safety equipment. If she has an accident that is severe enough, you will have to pay tens of thousands of dollars for her treatment or repatriation, and go through the hiring process all over again, wasting time and funds that you could have saved by hiring professionals (window cleaners, electricians, etc.) to do the necessary work.
Don't: Set unrealistic expectations from the beginning
Expecting your domestic worker to be a perfect jack-of-all trades from the very beginning is a surefire way to build disappointment and resentment. There are already enough stressors when hiring a new domestic worker, including having less cash to spend, training with a language barrier and dealing with one more person in your home. Trying to train your worker in everything all at once can lead to overwork and miscommunication, creating greater risk for burnout and mistakes due to the very common issue of being overworked.
If it is possible (there may be situations where no work can be learned at a later date), you can train your worker on the most important duties first, and add other less important duties over time. This will keep the workload interesting, and if presented properly, you are showing not only that you trust her, but she is doing her work well enough to receive additional responsibility. As she learns the language and becomes acclimated to your expectations and culture, it should also take you less time to train her. However, let her know all the work she is expected to do up front during your interviews and in her contract, so she doesn't get surprised when you add in responsibilities down the line.
Employing a domestic worker will always be an unpredictable process; it is possible that you can be the best employer and something will still go awry. However, the best way you can protect yourself is to do your due diligence, spend wisely and learn how to be a good boss. Put yourself in her shoes and don't prevent her from talking to her children and family. If you are noticing problems with your domestic worker, you should set aside time for communication to see whether she thought you did something wrong (and you may have) or if it just a mismatch in personality. If it's the latter, you can discuss terminating her contract early and save yourself the risk of facing a runaway domestic worker, which will cost you much more money.