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When you need a babysitter contract and what to include in it

Dec. 14, 2018

Even if your babysitter only watches your children occasionally, a contract or written agreement can serve as a tool to get you both on the same page, as well as prevent uncomfortable misunderstandings. These agreements can be especially helpful if you’re working with someone new or bringing a babysitter on for more frequent or routine child care.

“If you have a routine babysitter that comes on a regular basis on a fairly regular schedule, say every Saturday night, you may wish to formalize your arrangement,” says Michelle LaRowe, managing partner and executive director of Morningside Nannies in Houston.

But even if you have an infrequent but go-to sitter you’ve been working with already, settling on a written agreement is a great way to formalize the relationship and make all parties feel secure in what is expected of them. Here what you need to know when it comes to babysitter contracts.

When is a babysitter contract necessary?

Not every babysitting relationship warrants a formal written agreement, says Steven Katz, a contract attorney in Columbia, Ohio. For example, it’s uncommon to establish a written agreement when the babysitter is a family member. But if you’re hiring a babysitter you aren’t related to, there are legal reasons why you would want a contract in place, Katz says.

“When inviting someone into your home for a business purpose or for any purpose, you open yourself up to potential litigation if something goes wrong,” he says. “Even if the agreement is brief, it is better than nothing.”

Ultimately, whether or not you decide to put together a contract with your babysitter is up to you, but generally speaking, the more routine the care, the more helpful having a formalized agreement can be to establish expectations, LaRowe says.

What should your babysitter contract include?

A babysitter contract needn’t be as comprehensive as a full-time nanny contract, but it should include enough information that everyone is aligned on the important details. How long your agreement is will depend on how formal the arrangement and how specific you want to be. That said, here are the basics you’ll want to include.

Key components:

1. Names and ages of children, parents/guardians and caregiver, as well as contact info for parents/guardians and caregiver

2. Effective start date and end date (if applicable)

3. Compensation information:

  • How much will the sitter be paid? Will it be an hourly rate? By day? Will they be on a retainer? Be specific.

  • When will payment be given? Should they expect to be paid when you get home? Or, for longer-term arrangements, will they be paid biweekly or monthly?

  • What factors will increase or decrease pay? Will the rate increase on holidays? If you have to cancel at the last minute, will they still receive partial pay? How will they be compensated if you get home later than you agreed? Consider any factors that might result in rate changes and how those changes will be determined.

  • What other expenses will be reimbursed? If the babysitter takes your child to the zoo, will they be reimbursed for mileage, the price of admission or lunch? Be clear about what you are willing to pay for, above the sitter’s standard pay.

4. The babysitter’s commitments:

  • How frequently will the sitter be providing care? Will care be needed three times a week or simply as needed? Outline the expected time commitment, if possible.

  • What do you expect in terms of care? Will the sitter be expected to play with the child, cook and serve meals, put the child to bed, bathe them or do any housework? Specify what tasks are included in the compensation rate.

  • What (if anything) will the sitter be expected to provide? Will they need a reliable vehicle and a valid driver’s license? What about a cell phone? If any items will be essential for the child’s care, but will not be provided by you, it’s important to outline them.

  • What special needs should the sitter be aware of? If the sitter is caring for a child with special needs, such as autism or a serious food allergy, the contract should outline very clearly any guidelines and procedures a sitter should follow in order to avoid costly or potentially fatal mistakes.

5. Emergency procedures:

  • What should the sitter do in case of an emergency? Many families already know to write down emergency contact numbers for the sitter. It’s crucial information for caregivers, which is why it should also be clearly outlined in the written agreement. By signing the contract, it confirms the sitter has read and understands what they are expected to do in the event of an emergency.

6. Termination procedures:

  • Who can end the agreement, and under what circumstances? This one is essential to avoid any uncomfortable disagreements in the event you have to fire your sitter or they choose to stop working for you. Typically, either party will have the right to terminate the agreement at any time.

  • How much advance notice is needed? Will the sitter need to give notice if they don’t intend to work for you again? For as-needed care, this might not be necessary, but if you rely on your sitter for routine care, make sure to outline how far in advance they should give notice so that you have adequate time to find a replacement.

  • Will payment be due in the event of termination? When will it be issued, and under what circumstances? If your sitter is paid on a routine schedule rather than per session, this will help them know what they are entitled to in the event either of you ends the working relationship for any reason.

What other details should you align on?

While not required, you might also want to include other components that offer the sitter more detailed guidance on what you expect of them, especially if the sitter will be watching the child on a routine basis, or for an extended period. Even if you don’t put these details into the contract, it’s worth talking through these things:

1. House rules: If you have any specific limits for the child — like no candy or soda, or no screen time an hour before bed — outline them clearly.

2. Social media policy: Will the sitter be allowed to post photos of your child online? If yes, are there any precautions they should take to protect the child’s privacy?

3. Off-limits conduct and consequences: Is the sitter allowed to have visitors? Use the computer? Are there specific parts of the house where they shouldn’t go? And if these restrictions are violated, will it be grounds for dismissal? Will pay be deducted? If so, clearly outline what will happen if the sitter violates specified restrictions.

4. Health expectations for the sitter: Are they expected to be up to date on vaccinations like the flu shot ? Under what circumstances should the sitter not watch the child — for example, if the sitter has a temperature above 100.1 degrees?

5. Procedures if your child become ill: What steps should the sitter take to alert you if your child develops signs of illness — such as a fever over a specific temperature, vomiting or diarrhea — and who should be contacted if you can’t be reached? Do they have permission to administer medications like ibuprofen in the event of fever?

6. Child’s schedule: If your child needs to stick to a specific routine, clearly detail the schedule. For example, if the child should eat dinner at 5 p.m., bathe at 6:30 p.m. and be in bed by 7 p.m., include that itinerary.

5. Discipline: What discipline is expected and what isn’t? If you have a very specific way you’d like your child to be disciplined — such as using redirection instead of punishment — it’s important to make that very clear for the sitter.

6. Tax withholding and reporting (if applicable): If you expect to pay the sitter more than $2,100 during the calendar year, the tax laws requires you pay employment taxes. Consider how you’ll handle withholding and reporting taxes on those wages as the “employer” and outline your responsibilities in the agreement.

What’s the best way to discuss written agreements or contracts?

While some parents or guardians might feel like a written agreement or contract with a babysitter is “overkill,” your relationship with your babysitter is a working relationship.

“Remember that this is a business deal,” says Florence Ann Romano, a child care expert in Chicago and founder of WindyCityNanny.com.

You are providing them with compensation for a specific service. Just like you’d have an agreement with a licensed child care center or nanny, communicating your expectations is critically important with anyone who provides frequent or routine care for your child, including babysitters.

Even so, establishing such an agreement with someone — especially if you already have an existing relationship with them — can feel a little awkward. Here are some tips to help the process go more smoothly.

  • Be upfront: Clearly explain why you think a written agreement is a good idea for both you and the sitter, and how establishing the framework will benefit your working relationship, Katz says.

  • Be fair: Babysitting contracts are designed to protect both parties. Be mindful of how the needs and concerns of the sitter are reflected in the agreement, and avoid drafting something that is too one-sided, Romano says. Katz agrees, adding that it might be helpful for families and the sitter to download a blank babysitter contract template and then complete it together to make the creation of the document more of a discussion.

  • Be clear: Avoid using verbiage that is overly broad or murky and may lead to misunderstandings in the future. You don’t have to include every last detail, but make sure that the information is specific enough that there won’t be confusion over how it should be interpreted.

  • Be open: Sit down with your sitter to discuss each line of the agreement and provide an opportunity for them to ask questions or offer suggestions. This will help them feel like the agreement is mutually beneficial and helpful. Once the agreement is written, both parties should be given a chance to think it over before signing or consult an attorney if they want to, Katz says.

  • Be aware: Even the most thorough document can miss valuable (but unforeseen) information. Use the agreement as a starting and reference point for ongoing discussions about your arrangement, and update it as needed.

What is the absolute bare minimum you should do?

While a written agreement can be a formal legal one, it doesn’t have to be. If you choose to forgo a contract, it can still be helpful to write down all the important information a sitter needs to know in one place, LaRowe says, such as the child’s schedules, allergies, emergency contact information and house rules. Even if the document isn’t signed and dated, answering some of the questions above — even verbally — can help get everyone on the same page.  

*The information contained herein is general in nature and is not intended as legal or tax advice. It is presented to be used solely as an example and general guide. Further, the information may not be applicable to or suitable for your specific circumstances and may require consideration of other matters.

Read next: Should your caregiver be your friend, too?

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