Nannies fear taking a day off from work even if the families that employ them are sick with COVID-19: ‘We can’t afford it’

Kids playing with wooden toys
  • The highly contagious Omicron variant has nannies fearful of contracting the virus and losing their jobs.
  • If they get sick, one nanny said, they run the risk of losing their jobs — especially if there’s no contract. 
  • “We can’t afford” to take a day off from work, New York-based nanny Kenya Williams said. 

At the height of the pandemic, nannies were at risk for economic insecurity and job instability because of lockdown orders that mandated that everyone stay at home. Then, as vaccines became more commonplace and as parents returned to work in person, nannies were in full demand to care for children too young to attend school or kids who were home remote learning. 

But now a surge in cases caused by the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus variant Omicron once again threatens the livelihoods of at-home nannies, who worry about spreading the virus to the kids in their care.

“We’re being asked to pick up the kids from school, bring them to school, deal with that crowd, going through whatever protocol the schools have set up,” said New York-based nanny Kenya Williams. “But we’re also being asked as the family gets sick, they still want us to come into work.”

But if a nanny gets sick, “then we are in jeopardy of not getting paid or losing our job,” Williams added. “We are terrified to get sick. We’re afraid to take a day off. We can’t afford it.” 

Contracts for nannies are relatively new, according to Williams, who works with the Carroll Gardens Nanny Association, which fights for domestic worker rights. Parents who hire domestic workers like nannies often have the upper hand, Williams said, so contracts are a good way for nannies to level the playing field. 

Without a contract, nannies are “walking on eggshells from week to week.”

Other nannies said they’re concerned about contracting the virus themselves. 

Yolande Arthur, a Brooklyn-based nanny and newborn care specialist of 15 years, said she’s most afraid of getting infected while commuting to work. 

On the subway, she said, the trains are crowded during peak morning and evening hours, and many people are flouting masking guidelines meant to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

Arthur, a full-time nanny who cares for two five-month-old twins, said she fears she’ll infect them with the coronavirus if she were to contract it on her way to work. 

“When somebody’s coughing and sneezing, you never know if it’s a common cold or the coronavirus. So it gets me nervous,” she said in an interview with Insider. 

Arthur spends most of her day in close contact with the two infants, feeding and giving them baths, as well as playing with them and taking walks in the park.

“I know even if you’re fully vaccinated, you could still get the virus, but we are trying our best to follow the protocols,” she said. “We are trying our best to keep ourselves safe.”

Williams, in collaboration with the Carroll Gardens Nanny Association, has worked to spread awareness and get nannies in the New York area to band together and pressure parents looking to hire domestic workers to write up contracts specifying the terms of employment. 

The prospect of lockdowns looms if officials decide the spread is unmanageable. Encouraging nannies to demand a contract is one way to ensure that there’s at least some protection in case “this happens to us again,” Williams said.