Do I need a contract when I hire a nanny?
No, but it's a good idea to go through the process of drawing one up. If you're an easygoing type and your nanny seems agreeable, you might not want to bother with writing a formal agreement that could bring prickly issues to the surface. But you and your nanny (and your partner, if you have one) really should have a conversation about the ground rules of your arrangement, and setting them down in a contract forces you to clarify them. Having a written contract also offers guidance if a problem crops up: You can refer to it as you and your nanny try to resolve the issue.
What should a contract cover?
Anything and everything related to your nanny's job -- no detail is too small. If you're providing room and board, for example, you may want to pay for the nanny's phone line but not for long-distance charges. You also may want to pay for a cell phone for her so you can reach her in the park, but you should either get an account with unlimited minutes or note that she'll be responsible for any minutes that go over what the plan specifies. You should spell out any benefits, such as holidays, personal days, and sick days. You're not obligated to pay your nanny for days off, but it's smart as well as generous to do so; after all, most of us feel more positive about our employers if we have such benefits.
Your contract should have information on:
- The basic parameters of the job. Set down a job description, since the work of being a nanny means different things to different people.
- Work hours. (For example, 8 am to 6 pm)
- Benefits. Set down whether you're providing health insurance (if so, identify the plan). Specify holidays and how many vacation and personal days your nanny can take. State how far ahead of time you want her to let you know about time off.
- Pay schedule. Indicate the paycheck amount and when you'll provide it; for example, every other Thursday at the end of the workday.
- Regular duties. Write down any household chores -- folding the kids' laundry, helping your son pick up his room -- or other tasks you'd like your nanny to do. If, for example, you want her to take your daughter to and from soccer practice on certain days, put that in and discuss the logistics: If your nanny has her own car, will you reimburse her for the gas? If she'll be using your car, who's responsible for filling the tank?
- Living/eating arrangements. If your nanny will live in your home, you should spend plenty of time on this topic, with an eye to her privacy needs as well as yours. Will she join the family for dinner every night, for example? You may want to state how often she can use the car and the washing machine; you may want to provide a television and VCR for her room, but watch some shows together in the family room. Don't shy away from discussing issues of taste: If she loves sugary cereals that you don't allow your kids to eat, make it clear that she should buy them with her own money.
- Special arrangements. Try to think of any complication that might arise and a response that's fair to both of you. If you must work late, for example, you'll let her know by three in the afternoon and pay her an extra $5 an hour for the overtime. If she's sick, she should call you by 7:30 a.m.
- Emergency plans. Clarify the steps you want your nanny to follow if your child gets sick or hurt. Also, work out the best response if it's your nanny who suddenly gets sick : Give her the name and phone number of a neighbor or nearby relative who can help.
- Foreseeable changes in your arrangement. If you're pregnant, in escrow on a house 15 minutes farther from your nanny's home, or having a relative come stay with you for the summer, talk to your nanny about how the upcoming event will affect her.
How do I draw up an agreement?
Although you may think of a contract as a daunting legal document, writing one is pretty straightforward as long as you think through what to include. You can use the categories above and add others that apply to your situation. If you like, you can have a lawyer review the agreement when you're done.
Make sure both you and your nanny sign and date the contract. Each of you should keep a copy. If you make minor changes (for example, you agree that she'll end her day at five o'clock instead of six), you both should initial the amendments and each get a fresh copy.
You may want to include a clause that you and your nanny will revisit the contract on a certain date (a one-year anniversary works well). When that time comes, the two of you will discuss anything either of you wants to alter. Of course, you'll have to redo the agreement sooner if there's a major change in your household, such as a new baby, or in your work schedule, such as longer hours at the office.
How do I make the contract binding?
As with any employment agreement, a nanny contract is hard to enforce. Never count on being able to do so. But having worked out so many details ahead of time, you're far more likely to enjoy a smooth relationship with your nanny.
Robert H. Pantell M.D., James F. Fries M.D., Donald M. Vickery M.D., Taking Care of Your Child: A Parent's Illustrated Guide to Complete Medical Care. Da Capo Press. 2005.
Nemours Foundation, KidsHealth.org. Choosing Child Care. http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/child_care.html