When you start a new job as a nanny, you may have agreed to working terms by a verbal or handshake agreement. After all, you want to establish a good relationship with this family, and asking them to sign a formal contract could feel uncomfortable.
Katharine Perry, a 31-year-old professional nanny in New York City, says she didn’t use contracts when she first started nannying. She met one family that she loved working with but quickly realized they expected her to be available on holidays and to work two full weeks in a row with no break. She had nothing to fall back on and no Human Resources department to go to. After that learning experience, she says she now always uses written contracts with her employers to prevent another unfortunate situation.
“I’m of the belief that in the great majority of cases, a written contract should absolutely be in place, if for no other reason that it clarifies and establishes up front exactly what both parties are expecting of the arrangement,” says Tonya Sakowicz, co-president of the International Nanny Association.
Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of using a nanny contract or written work agreement, what it should entail and how to obtain one.
Why you should use a nanny contract
In some states, like Florida, a verbal agreement can be considered a contract. But lawyer Netali Peles, of Peles and Associates LLC in Miami, says that regardless of location, getting your nannying agreement in writing is always better to prove what was agreed upon.
A contract also serves to ensure you and your employer are on the same page about your role, Sakowicz says. “Sometimes when it’s done verbally, later when it comes to the application of it, there may be a different interpretation,” Sakowicz says. “When you put it down in writing, it allows that opportunity to say, ‘Yes, that’s what I meant,’ or ‘This isn’t what I meant’ and discuss it and get it worked out in advance.”
Perry says that in her extensive nannying experience, requiring a contract also adds a layer of professionalism and respect with your clients.
“What I’ve found is when I ask for a contract, the families have respected me more and trusted me more,” she says. “What I’d want other nannies to know is that you’re not being difficult by being professional. You’re not being high-maintenance. You’re drawing a boundary and you need to protect yourself, because you’ll last longer in the position and you’ll be a better nanny.”
What to include in a nanny contract
Aim to include the following in any contract with your clients:
1. Your role and responsibilities
“I think it’s really important to have a very clear, very detailed outline of the responsibilities that are expected by the client and that the caregiver is willing to perform,” Sakowicz says.
For example, she says, many parents put “light housekeeping” in their job descriptions. The family could interpret this as vacuuming the entire house, whereas the caregiver may think this only means taking care of the areas of the home related directly to childcare.
“It really helps to get clarification in a contract and specifically outline in detail the responsibilities that are expected and agreed to,” Sakowicz says.
Perry adds that if later on, you’re asked to do something like take care of a friend’s dog or another child, you can refer to your contract and say that this is not in it.
2. The client’s responsibilities
While your contract should state your responsibilities, it should also explain what the client will provide, Sakowicz says.
For example, she says, “Are they providing car seats? Will they provide a credit card or cash for outings with the kids, or does the caregiver have to pay for that and submit for reimbursement?”
Your contract should clearly state your hourly rate, how overtime pay will work, what your employer is withholding for taxes and how and when you will receive your pay. According to Care.com’s 2018 Cost of Care study, the national average for a nanny’s pay is $580 per week.
4. Time off
While there is no federal legal requirement for you to receive paid time off, Peles says, you could negotiate for this. Not all employers are willing to offer it, but some may be willing to provide one to two weeks of paid time off per year. If you are able to get any, the contract should indicate it. It should also outline how you’ll handle sick days and whether any of them will be paid.
Perry says that in nannying, even if you’re physically capable of working, you don’t want to bring germs into the house, so you should have a mutually understood policy on what you’ll do if you’re sick. She also often travels with high-net-worth clients, so if they ask her to accompany them on long trips, she will ask for a guaranteed day off. She recommends being realistic about your needs for time off and having them explicitly listed in your contract.
5. Your schedule
Your contract should also state the planned days and hours that you are agreeing to work and for what timeframe. The contract should also outline what to do if the parents can’t stick to the schedule, Sakowicz says.
“If it’s an emergency, that’s one thing, but if it’s a consistent thing where they can’t stick to it, it should state how you’re going to handle and modify it,” she says.
The contract should also include the terms of termination and how it will be handled if circumstances change and you need to part ways, Sakowicz says. It’s ideal to require notice — a common time frame is two to four week — so you will have time to find a new job if the family decides to let you go.
If you don’t have this in a contract, your employer has the ability to fire you the very same day. Ideally, it should also say if there are any specific grounds for dismissal.
Sakowicz says it’s wise to include a provision for reviews in the contract based on your personal preference. She says some nannies want regular reviews every month to get on the same page with the parents and receive feedback. Others may want one check-in at 30 days and another at six months. Having that outlined in advance can be really beneficial for setting expectations, she says.
8. Other topics
Sakowicz says the International Nanny Association also recommends including information on how amendments can be made to the agreement, any house rules, driving rules and responsibilities, any benefits like health insurance and a statement if nanny cameras are going to be used.
Where to get a nanny contract
If you are working with a nanny agency, the agency will likely require you to use a contract. Perry says she now works with an agency that requires it, and while it provides a boilerplate contract, she works with her agent to amend it to meet her personal preferences and capabilities.
If you’re not working with an agency, Sakowicz says, members of the International Nanny Association get access to resources to help them create a contract and mentors who can provide guidance. She says there are also some contract templates for purchase online, and one of the most popular ones is the A to Z Nanny Contract. You can also download a free sample contract from Care.com HomePay. If you’re not able to spend the money on one, Sakowicz says many nannies on discussion boards online or on social media are often willing to share their contracts with fellow nannies.
Asking your new employer for a contract may feel a little uncomfortable, but keep in mind that it protects you and the family and reinforces that you are a professional with rights.
“Nannies are specialized; this is not a favor for a friend,” Perry says. “We are helping raise your baby. This profession needs to be taken more seriously. Every time you stand up for yourself as a nanny, you’re legitimizing your career.”