When you hire a nanny, senior caregiver, or other household staff, you immediately become an employer subject to all tax and labor laws in force. Unfortunately, the intimacy of the relationship can often induce the parties to cross legal boundaries, and these actions can eventually get the family into hot water.
Families who hire a caregiver or household staff often fail to understand that their legal obligations as an employer begin the moment their new employee walks through the front door. Even more dangerous, after years of satisfactory performance, many families regard their nanny not as an employee, but as part of the family. However, state and federal employment laws apply to all domestic employees, and many families place themselves at high risk if they do not manage their nanny and any other household staff as employees and in strict accordance with employment laws.
No matter how intimate the relationship is that develops between the employer and employee, there is always a legal employment situation and all parties need to be respectful of these boundaries.
Failure to understand the employer – employee relationship can expose all family members to personal litigation for violations of employment related conduct towards those they employ. Even inappropriate conduct among different members of the household staff can create a legal exposure for the family. Because the household is seen as a safe and informal space and vague verbal contracts are all too common, many families either ignore or fail to comply with their legal responsibilities as employers.
Start With a Work Agreement
Defining the terms ad conditions of employment, including pay, benefits, taxes, paid time off, etc. in writing at the start of employment is a best practice. Definition is important, ambiguity is not your friend.
At Will Employment
Families do not typically have an HR department, and most household employers are learning as they go, and are legitimately ignorant of applicable employment law. Experts consistently advise that families and their employees are best protected with a written work agreement, and the best ones include an "at will" employment statement. This provides the family the ability to terminate the employee for almost any reason, or no reason, so long as it is not based on some legally protected characteristic.
Check Out Laws In Your State
State laws govern important items such as the obligation to pay out unused vacation time and the timing of the final paychecks. Know what your obligations are.
Severance Agreement and Release of Claims
Most household employees will lose their job at some point. It can be a planned separation - for example when the youngest child starts full time school - or unplanned due to job performance or the family's circumstances. While a family should always have started the work arrangement with a written work agreement that planned for the inevitable end, often a family will offer to pay out unused vacation or provide severance in exchange for:
- A return of family property;
- Acknowledgment that all claims are released;
- Commitment to confidentiality.
No matter how attentive, household employers need to know that they cannot totally control the work environment. Just as in a traditional workplace, household employers can be held liable for conduct viewed by their staff as obscene, discriminatory or offensive. No matter how intimate the relationship is that develops between the employer and employee, there is always a legal employment situation and all parties need to be respectful of these boundaries.