Home with a housekeeper
Many people who have never employed any domestic help before find it advantageous to do so while in Santo Domingo. Although at a start you may have conflicting feelings about hiring maids, the alternative is not very appealing. One reason why you should consider getting a maid is that homes tend to need dusting and mopping more frequently here, since windows and doors are almost always open. In addition, people entertain more often, for both business and pleasure. You can enjoy your company a lot more if there is someone else serving and cleaning up. Because of the tropical climate, you will probably find that clothes must be washed more frequently, giving you a laundry nightmare. Finally, maids who live in your home ensure that there is always someone at home to receive deliveries, allow repairmen in, feed the pets and generally keep watch while you are away.
It is common for households to employ more than one maid to do different jobs such as the laundry, cooking, and child care. Most Dominican homes and apartments have a room and bath for domestic service personnel, usually separate from the family quarters. It is a Dominican custom for nannies to sleep in the same room with their charge until the baby is at least one year old.
One disadvantage of hiring outside help is the sacrifice of your privacy. Hiring domestic help means that there is always someone around observing your habits. Although this may make you uncomfortable at first, you will probably find that being freed from your household chores helps you to adapt quickly.
What do I need to know about cultural differences when hiring help?
You will have fewer misunderstandings if you are familiar with the culture of your employees. Generally, maids have little or no formal education; they may not read or write well if at all, and probably can’t do simple mathematics, either. Therefore, you will need to give very clear, simple explanations and follow up with close supervision. Explain all duties very carefully and work with her for a few days, if possible, to ensure she understands how you want the work done. You may want to phase in these tasks. For instance, clarify that she is to do only the laundry that is left in a specific location; make it very clear that bleach should not be used (it is often overused and eats holes in clothes).
It is also expected that you keep a professional distance between yourself and your employees. Too familiar an atmosphere can lead to the assumption that you are good friends and you won’t mind if your possessions are occasionally borrowed.
Dominicans tend to be very clean people, but if your staff is handling food or caring for your children, you should probably be sure your standards of hygiene are clearly understood. Those who can afford to do so may pay for medical tests of these persons before employing them. It is also a common practice for those who can afford to do so, to pay medical insurance for their maids especially if these are skilled personnel.
Do not automatically assume that your employees know how to use different appliances in your home. Explain their operation in the simplest terms. Many housewives will prefer to keep these off limits.
If you have a commuting maid, be very clear about the times the work day should start and finish. Clarify that if time off is needed for personal errands during the work day, this must be requested and approved in advance. Clarify that no collect phone calls should be accepted unless you specifically authorize them.
How do I find a maid?
The best person to hire is one who comes recommended. For instance, try to find someone who is pleased with their maid and is leaving the country. You can then arrange to hire her after her current employer leaves. Most maids have relatives that are looking for work. Chances are that if someone you know is satisfied with their maid, that person’s relative will be equally reliable. Naturally, you should seek the help of your employer. If you are replacing someone in a job here, it may be possible for you to hire his or her staff.
What do I ask when interviewing candidates?
It is a good idea to decide beforehand which qualities are the most important for your needs, and on what points you are willing to compromise. No one will ever be perfect, so if, for example, everything about a candidate seems terrific except her available hours, consider being flexible about schedules.
Always, always ask for references and check them. A person without references is a real risk, and you can learn some crucial information by actually checking on them. The ideal is to hire persons who come personally recommended by someone you know.
Some maids have picked up some English from their previous employers. This can be an advantage if your Spanish is weak, but you forfeit the opportunity to converse privately in their presence.
Ask candidates about their previous experiences, and whether their own families are being taken care of while they are working so there will not be frequent personal emergencies. Also observe their personal appearance, ability to follow directions and willingness to learn new things. Ask how they feel about pets, if you have any, and if they can at read and write enough to take phone messages.
Conduct the interview in your home. This is partly a test of the candidate’s desire to work and partly of his or her ability to follow directions.
Ask to see their cédula and write down the number, or better still make a photocopy of it. A cédula is a legal identification card, and you might require it either to check for a police record, or to locate the person in an emergency. Also write down her address, telephone number (her own, a relative or a neighbor) where she can be contacted on days off.
How much should I offer to pay?
What you decide to pay should depend on the applicant’s previous experience and salary. Ask the references what they paid before making an offer. Also consider whether the maid will live in or commute on a daily basis. If she has to commute, transportation costs should be taken into consideration.
Salaries often include breakfast and lunch and the cost of transportation to and from your house or room and board for live-ins. Expect to pay anything between RD$1500 to RD$4000 a month for a typical housekeeper who will clean and cook, and over RD$4000 per month for a specialized baby nanny. Annual raises are expected, as is the traditional salary for a 13th month at Christmas time. Live-ins usually have at least one day off per week, but one-and-a-half is standard. Many employers will give deserving employees two full days off, especially as many of these commute to interior towns. By law, maids get two week paid vacation per year. Maids may appreciate getting additional days off when the folks are away.
Many employers also assist their staff with personal needs if they have proven to be trustworthy. Some examples of this help are presents of clothing, help with medical expenses, or personal loans. Most maid's will appreciate it if you can provide them with a uniform.
What are some of the common problems I should anticipate?
Both receiving and making too many telephone calls can lead to difficulties. Establish acceptable hours and limits to conversations if the situation is getting out of hand.
Establish a system for cooking and eating food in your home if you don’t want to come home and find tonight’s dinner has already been consumed. If you like to do your own cooking, it might also be worth the investment to buy them their own set of pots, pans and dishes to avoid possible damage.
Show your maid how to clean anything that should not be scrubbed, which is the method normally used. Teflon, for example, can be ruined if scratched, and should be cleaned with plastic. If you will be doing the cooking for your family, let the maid know your schedule so she can plan around it. Finally, if your maid is cooking for you, try planning at least a week’s menus in advance so you don’t have to supervise constantly. This way, she can also let you know what you need to purchase.
Many maids like to watch television or listen to the radio while they work. If you permit this, set limits as to where and when. Some people allot an older TV or radio to the maid. It is also a good idea to clean any valuable electronic equipment you may own yourself, as many maids do not understand how to treat it.
Don’t tempt the honesty of your staff by leaving any valuables or money out in the open. Keep things such as passports, money and jewelry in a locked drawer or briefcase.
Be sure your maid does not allow her friends or family into your home when you are out. Even if she is trustworthy; she cannot guarantee the behavior of others.
Let your employees know from the start what kind of behavior would cause you to fire them. Usually this includes stealing, allowing people in the home while you are away or any improper treatment of the children. Making these things clear from the start could help you avoid problems in the future.
If you do fire your maid, do not give her notice. First collect the keys, then just pay her until the end of the month and have her leave quickly.