Many of us have domestic help working in our homes – providing child-care, cleaning and other services – whose lives could be devastated by an interruption in income due to the coronavirus. 

Some of you may decide to tell them to stay away and, by doing so, avoid any chance of having them bring the virus into your home. Others of you may decide you need them more than ever and even get them to expand the hours they devote to supporting you.  

Regardless of which way you go, you should offer to continue to pay them their normal compensation for the services they provide, regardless of what happens. 

For those who choose the “stay away” approach, keep in mind that these people often already struggle to make ends meet. If you don’t continue to pay them, it’s unlikely they will be able to find alternative employment. The result may be a descent into hunger and homelessness. But there are reasons beyond compassion to continue to compensate them: it would be a contribution to a collective effort to keep the economy from seizing up completely…and we all have a pragmatic stake in doing that. For most of you, it’s not going to be a strain to continue to pay your help for a month or two, so do it. 

For those of you who go the “keep giving me support” route, there are equally compelling reasons to offer to continue to pay your staff in the event that they become a health risk. Why? Because the pressures they may feel to continue to generate an income may lead them to come to your home regardless of their health status (and that of the people with whom they have contact).

Asking them promptly to stop working voluntarily if they experience symptoms or are in contact with those who do is what is known as an “insecure contract.” Of course they will say “yes,” but their real incentive will be to continue to come to your home regardless — or end up without income. 

So think of your promise to continue to pay them if they become a health risk as a sort of “bond” to make the agreement secure. If they know they will continue to be paid, then they will make better judgements about when to stop. Does this create the risk that they will do so regardless so they can get paid for doing nothing? Yes, but if you have people working for you with those sorts of propensities, you already have a big problem. 

In the spirit of practicing what we preach, my wife and I have made this offer of support to both our nanny and our house cleaner. You should too.