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Considerations for the Nanny Work Agreement

Reprinted with Permission from Nanny News June 1997

When Nanny comes to work for the family, a Work Agreement is essential. From household to household the issues to be covered are the same - privacy, schedules, mutual commitments, meals, car use, pay day - but solutions vary, so that each family must spell out its own desires. These should then be discussed during the interview process and modified according to the nanny to be hired.

Even the live-out nanny needs a Work Agreement, albeit a simpler one. While she will be working in the house, she will not be living there. That is one difference. (We've starred items that apply to live-in and not to most live-out jobs.) Another is that the live-in may be coming from another part of the country and desperately need specifics on family lifestyle.

Writing everything down achieves as much sometimes for Family as for Nanny because it gets everyone organized. Some of these routines parents will already have formalized, others may be habits, good or bad, that need re-visiting before a new person joins in. Nanny needs to know what the family likes or doesn't, and Family needs to know that she knows. No unpleasant surprises, please.

Here's an outline for a basic Agreement. Agency developed and time-tested, it tells Nanny where she fits into the family's day-to-day operations. A document based on such an outline may be offered by Nanny to Family, provided by the placing agency, or created in advance by the Family and used by all as a tool in getting to know each other during interviews. Both Nanny and Family should have a copy of the final signed, written Agreement. The items here may be used as a checklist for comparison with a standard form or may become the basis of a customized Agreement, used year after year.

In discussing your Agreement, avoid vagueness. Better to be too specific than the opposite. You learn a lot by considering details. Avoid TBD's (to be determined) and get to the nitty-gritty. Of course the job will evolve; this document is your starting point, the baseline form which to measure inevitable growth of responsibility. Clarify now what's important to you, and later you will congratulate yourself for having done so.

A final note: Increasingly, good agencies are providing skeletal Work Agreement forms for their clients. Our list is meant to be exhaustive, an exercise in clarifying what really might happen on the job. We've taken items in no particular order because all are basic. In this issue, for instance, we discuss daily schedules, housekeeping, privacy, food and pay. Further areas of concern (benefits, car use, travel, house rules, discipline, providing notice, communication, and finally, developmental goals) will be addressed on an ongoing basis in a new column, Defining Terms.

CHILDREN'S SCHEDULES

Include the following:

  • wake-up and bedtimes
  • school schedules
  • meals
  • naps
  • toileting/toilet training
  • baths
  • outdoor play
  • activities with other children and anything else that's routine

HOURS

  • Time that each parent routinely leaves and returns
  • Time Nanny's day begins and her responsibilities at that hour
  • How much time do parents need to unwind before Nanny is free for the evening? (Up to half an hour is the norm).
  • At what time does her day routinely end?
  • Additional hours that may be needed (weekend babysitting? parents' evening commitments?)
  • Overtime rate (time-and-a-half)?
  • Although her weekend hours are her own, at about what time will Nanny return weeknights (Sunday-Thursday?) so as to be fresh for work the next day? Note alarm systems, potential for dogs to bark or parents to lie awake for her return, and routines with keys, hall lights, etc.

Keep a family calendar in the kitchen for all commitments including Nanny's and notes on any overtime worked. Families often color-key activities, e.g., pink for Mom, blue for Dad, green for Nanny, orange, purple or red for each child.

PRIVACY

Many families say they want their nanny to be like a member of the family. The idea of being a family member needs specifics. Does the family want a cordial, independent adult or someone who dines, vacations and generally hangs out with them. There are shades to this, too, so it may be useful to note expectations in terms of always, sometimes, or rarely with an explanatory note such as 'We'd love her company at some meals but need our quite time together' or 'She's always welcome, but we recognize that she may have commitments of her own.'

Nanny must have her own room, and its privacy must be respected: family members must not enter without permission. Set parameters clearly. Nanny in turn should keep her room clean, free of trash, dirty laundry, and dishes, and make her bed daily, setting a good example for her charges and showing her respect for the household. Children should know the visiting rules and follow them, and Nanny should not feel apologetic about enforcing them.

When Nanny joins Family for dinner, she crosses the line from employee to friend or, at least, guest. Like any good, frequent guest she should expect to stay through the meal (not empty her plate and disappear) and take responsibility for up to 50% of the work associated with it. If parents cook, and she's going to clean up, older children should expect to help. If she cooks, she should be free to leave cleanup to others.

HOUSEKEEPING

Nannies are routinely responsible for children's meals, laundry, rooms, and personal belongings. Most families also hope that Nanny, as the only person at home all day, will help with miscellaneous chores. Some nannies enjoy grocery shopping, cooking for the family, or even doing laundry. Nannies should be sure to offer to do only those chores that they can enjoy (some like cleaning or cooking, some hate it). Some get paid extra for specific chores. Whatever is done should not be allowed to compete with childcare.

Note the extent to which children can be responsible for their things, including bed making. Will parents pick up after themselves? put their own dishes into the dishwasher? make their own beds?

Although Nanny may offer to do miscellaneous tasks, seasonal labors (e.g., windows, defrost refrigerator, wash cars by hand, clean garage, clean oven/stove, rake leaves), are not her responsibility, even if she is in the home and paid while parents vacation. You may arrange some quid pro quo but you want to be sure that it is fair.

Who does the following for the general household and how often?

  • Dust, vacuum
  • Clean bathrooms, kitchen floor, refrigerator and/or stove
  • Parents and/or children's laundry, ironing

If Nanny or Family has a particular preference for handling Nanny's share of chores (e.g., special materials for kitchen or bathroom cleanup), be sure to discuss them.

FOOD

Who makes meals and when? What kinds of foods and for whom? Nanny should avoid using sweets as rewards and between meal snacks. Any food allergies to note? For the live-out, what food is she entitled to? Some live-out nannies cook during the day, leaving dinner for their employers and taking home a portion for their own family, an interesting exchange.

In what rooms of the house may food be eaten? Where can Nanny keep her foods? Keep a shopping list that Nanny can add to as items are used or needed. Who will shop and how often?

A petty cash fund ($25-$100) should be maintained so that Nanny does not have to advance children's and household expenses from her own pocket. Where will it be kept, what expenditures should it cover, and how often will it be replenished? Is there a maximum monthly limit? A wise nanny keeps receipts, even if handwritten. One employer provides a new pocket receipt book each time she hires a nanny.

PAY

Write down the gross wages (weekly pay before taxes), deductions, and net after all deductions (take-home). (Click here for Nanny Tax Information)

Avoid penalties and surprises by paying taxes quarterly. Set amounts due aside weekly in a special account. Most states require quarterly wage reporting and quarterly remittance of unemployment insurance and withheld state income taxes. Failing to keep to the state's reporting schedule will result in costly penalties and higher unemployment insurance [a tax] rates.

Workers' Compensation Insurance [not a tax] will cover Nanny if she breaks a leg on the job and cannot work. It varies from state to state. Well worth the minimal cost.

 Social Security is 7.65% each from employer and nanny, total of 15.3% - a lot, but paying it qualifies Nanny for school loans, bank accounts and mortgages, not to mention retirement for the older nanny.

The remaining (state and federal income) taxes must also be withheld if Nanny so requests, but she might pay estimated taxes instead of expecting the family to do all the work. Even so, Family remains responsible for insurance taxes (U/DI, Social Security, and Medicare amounts). Call IRS toll-free listing in your phone book for estimated tax coupons, employer's forms (1040 ES, Schedule H, SS-4, W-4, W-2 - seems like a lot, but each is fairly simple.) Estimated taxes are particularly easy, and Nanny maintains records for herself with a W-2 at year end from the family. Nanny may qualify as Head of Household and benefit from low rates. Use a payroll service such as HomeWork Solutions Inc. if you find paperwork a problem.

Nanny needs to know her net pay as well as the amounts (to) set aside for her (estimated) taxes. Family can accomplish this with a single statement in the Agreement or stubs with each check.

What is pay day? You'd be surprised how many families don't stick to a particular payday. Cash or check? (But Nanny should set up her own checking/automatic teller account so that parents don't have to make a special stop to bring cash home for her.) How often will Family review Nanny's pay? Are there bonuses or special perks to consider?

Reproduced by permission of Nanny News and the author/editor, Mary Clurman, a national newsletter for nannies and their employers.
NANNYNETWORK.COM EDITORS NOTE: Nanny News IS NO LONGER PUBLISHED.