Many people living in Panama employ domestic help. Maids are quite often employed. Many also hire a nanny to take care of the children and a cook. Panama labour laws tend to favour the employee as a general rule. If you have friends or relatives with a good maid they have had for sometime, try to get a referral. This should insulate you from a dishonest maid. Going through a maid agency is another a good way to get a maid. They will check references for you and warn the maid about stealing. If you accuse her of stealing or bad behaviour, she probably will be banned from using that agency again.
Domestic employees have special considerations in the Panama Labour Code. When you fire a domestic help, you need to give her 30 days notice. In lieu of notice, you could give her 30 days pay. One would think they do not want you suddenly firing your maid who is a live-in and making them homeless and broke all of a sudden. The maids know this or will soon find out about it. Maids tend to file labour complaints a lot. Expect your maid to file a labour complaint when it is time to part company, plan on it. That nice woman you were so nice to all this time will almost for sure file a labour complaint against you when you separate!
If your maid breaks the rules, breaks or damages items like a vase, crystal, appliances etc. document it. Write it up and give her a copy saving a copy for yourself. Keep your copies locked up where she cannot get to them. After several of these you could proceed to fire the maid with cause. Always have your maid sign something to document the separation, be it a firing or, voluntary termination. Do see a lawyer first.
Never hire a maid without a written contract. There should be a trial period for say two weeks. At the end of the two weeks you can decide to keep her or part company with no penalties for you.
If your domestic worker becomes pregnant while in your employ, this can be serious. She can wind up with several months pay while not working. If the doctor states it is a “high risk” pregnancy she can recover medical expenses from you if you insist she work during this period. You can screen for maids that are not able to become pregnant. If the maid says she is pregnant ask for a blood test. Then send her for a blood test to a lab you chose and make sure you go with her so it is her blood that gets tested. One pregnant girl could get a handful of maids pregnancy leave otherwise. If this test is negative, repeat it again at another lab.
The Panama maid is hard for a foreigner to understand. In early 2007, maid pay runs from a low of $140 a month to a high of $250.00 per month. $200.00 per month is average for a foreigner, and $160.00 per month is average for a Panamanian family. The maid gets room and board. The foreigner would be more inclined to let the maid eat the same food they eat and not buy lower price food for the domestic help. Often the maid or nanny is provided with several uniforms. Some prefer uniforms, some do not like them. You could always get uniforms for them that do not look like uniforms. Many of these maids are from the country side, who never went to school beyond the third grade. They will usually only speak Spanish. If you get them a TV set you may catch them watching cartoons, rather than CNN!
If they had a regular day job they would never be able to bank anywhere near as much money, and perhaps may not even be able to save anything at all. Minimum wage here is about $250.00 per month. Does the maid know how to run a switchboard, operate a computer or fax machine, have work experience in retail, etc. Probably not. So she would be a minimum wage worker and then after bus fare, food, rent, utilities she would be fortunate to just get through the month. Working for you, she is in a nice safe home, eats good food, and has it nice and secure. She may have kids with her mother and she goes and sees them on Saturday afternoon and returns for work Monday morning. Her money keeps the family going. Remember she has no expenses not even toilet paper.