Lots of people love a juicy bit of gossip, and helpers are no different.
And as a member of your household, a helper has access to intimate and private information, be it seeing bank statements or employment contracts left out on a desk, or overhearing marital arguments.
Can you trust her to be discreet, or does having a helper immediately compromise on your privacy?
For American expat Sonia Williamson, a casual discussion over dinner about the neighbourhood kids led to a confrontation that soured her relationship with a close neighbour.
“My helper overheard me say to my husband that this particular neighbour’s young child was a bad influence on my son. Unfortunately, my helper repeated it to the neighbour’s helper, who told the child’s mother. “She confronted me in the condo gym a few days later, and now, thanks to personal politics, there’s a whole group of neighbours that we no longer socialise with anymore.”
A loss of a neighbour’s friendship is bad enough, but a helper’s gossip could have far more damaging consequences.
Australian expat Maryanne Smith* explains, “My helper found out that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She told one of the neighbour’s helpers and as these things do, the news spread.”
“The first we knew about it was when one of our neighbours approached my husband to ask if they could help out. The main reason we hadn’t told anyone was that we hadn’t figured out the best way to tell our two kids. Fortunately, we were able to contain the news before they heard it.”
British expat Amanda Holden’s* helper caused a tricky situation at a dinner party, when Amanda’s 5-year-old son told his dad in front of their guests “Daddy, you drink too much!” A later conversation with her son revealed that he was simply repeating what their helper had said to him.
“Needless to say, I had fairly strong words with my helper on what was considered appropriate to speak about in front of the children,” Amanda says.
If your helper has a tendency to be indiscreet in front of your children, have a serious conversation about how kids can be impressionable. She may not realise that even very young children absorb and remember what is said to them, or even mentioned aloud in their presence, particularly if she doesn’t have children of her own.
Eddy Lam from maid agency 121 Personnel Services confirms that the problem of gossipy helpers is common.
“To put this into perspective, people gossip in and outside of their workplace, any time and any where – it would not be surprising that the helper will talk about her work and employers to her friends.”
If you’re concerned about other people knowing your business, it’s worth setting some ground rules.
For those who are hiring a new helper, consider including a “no gossip” clause in your interview process. During reference checks, you can ask previous employers if the helper had a tendency to gossip.
For existing helpers, discuss what types of information are not up for sharing. You could include sensitive financial, medical or work-related matters, or more innocuous information like family travel plans.
Consider limiting the amount of info to which your helper is exposed to as well. “The employer can choose not to let the helper know more than what is necessary for her work,” explains Eddy.
As your helper lives with you, maintaining privacy can be difficult. Consider keeping important paperwork locked up, and hold your sensitive conversations behind closed doors.
If you find that it’s still a problem, Eddy suggests involving the agency to help counsel the helper.
“And, if the helper repeats the mistake, depending on how serious it is, the employer may choose to terminate the service of the helper.”
If talking it out doesn’t work, try penning it down on paper. Yes, confidentiality contracts aren’t just something out of Hollywood. In fact, most workplaces now request employees to sign a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Why not apply the same standards to your employees at home?
This could be particularly important for those who have any kind of public profile, or those who work from home.
Rules about social media and photography can be included to ensure photos and posts about your family aren’t splashed all over your helper’s social media accounts.
You can either arrange a separate NDA or include a clause in your existing contract with the helper. “If the employer chooses to do so and the helper agrees to it, they can sign and agree upon anything that is legal and lawful,” says Eddy. A lawyer can advise on the best way to draft an agreement or clause.
How enforcable is an NDA? From a business perspective, an NDA is usually used to enable a business to fire an employee in breach of confidentiality, and possibly allow the business to sue that employee. Since you can transfer or end a helper’s contract without requiring a reason, and the scenario of suing a helper for a breach of confidentiality is only likely to happen if she is able to sell information about you and your family to an outside party, the NDA would mostly be useful as just a deterrent.
However, an NDA could be a good way to emphasise to your helper how serious you are about the issue of confidentiality.
By Karola Clark, The Finder (Issue 285), September 2017
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