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Nanny contracts: Everything parents need to know

So, you’ve interviewed a slew of candidates and have finally found the perfect nanny. Now what? Before jumping in and having your nanny start caring for your kids, it’s important to make sure you’re clearly aligned on expectations surrounding this job. A formal contractual agreement can help with that — and, ultimately, protect your family and the caregiver.

“Having a contract avoids any kinds of miscommunication, and it avoids any of those grey areas,” says Lindsay Thomason, founder and owner of Los Angeles nanny agency the Nanny League. “The family wants to make sure the nanny is treating this job like a professional career just as they would at a desk job in corporate America. By having a contract, they’re saying what they agreed upon, and having it in writing helps solidify it.”

Indeed, a contract is an indispensable tool to ensure everyone is on the same page and remains that way for the duration of employment. Here’s why you should consider drafting a nanny contract — and how to make it happen.

Why a nanny contract is a must

Sure, a contract may feel weighty and formal. And the idea of having to work through one with someone you don’t know well yet can seem awkward. But putting one in place upfront will ensure that you are on the same page about important topics — it’s much worse to tackle them when as problems arise! — and will end up protecting both you as the employer and the nanny as your employee. In fact, many nanny agencies require the use of a contract.

“A contract protects a family during the term of the employment because it allows them to hold the nanny accountable for what the job description and job duties are going to entail,” says Meghan Alexander, a lawyer at Alexander Law Firm in Austin, Texas, who has created nanny contracts for many families.

The contract remains in place throughout the nanny’s time with your family, which means it will set clear expectations at the start and can also help if the nanny isn’t holding up her end.

For example, if the nanny is supposed to take the kids to gymnastics on Tuesdays but fails to, or if she was supposed to go on the family vacation and refuses to go, the contract can gives the family an easy way to address the issue and point out that she is breaking the agreement, says Alexander.

“It gives them a basis for getting their employee to do their job and evaluating them,” Alexander says. “If they are supposed to do something in the contract but have not done it, it gives them a forum to have the discussions. And if it’s just not working out, and the nanny is not meeting the expectations that are set out in contract, then it’s much easier for them to let them go than a subjective, ‘Well, it’s not working out.’”

Having all the rules, expectations and terms of employment in a contract helps both sides if there is ever a dispute.

“If there’s ever any claim for pay or benefits or vacation or hours, that stuff is in writing, so that protects everybody,” Alexander says.

Find sample contracts online or meet with a lawyer

One way to quickly get a nanny contract is to download a free sample contract from Care.com HomePay. There are also various pre-made nanny contracts online, most of which require a fee to download. A popular one is the A to Z Nanny Contract, which costs $40.

If you want a contract completely customized for your family, you can create your own; you just need to have you and your nanny sign and date it. However, if you don’t have a legal background, you may want to pay to have a lawyer review it to ensure you’re not leaving out anything important. Another option is to pay a local civil and/or contracts lawyer to draw up a tailor-made contract for you. Some lawyers charge flat fees for creating these types of contracts, while others charge by the hour, and the cost ranges depending on the lawyer’s level of experience.

What to include in a nanny contract

Here are some of the key items that should be included in your nanny contract:

1. Job duties: child care, household work and pet care

Sure you want your nanny to take care of your child, but will her duties to extend to other household work, too? Be sure to outline the roles and responsibilities expected of your nanny, and be very specific. Specify whether the nanny’s duties include things like cooking, cleaning, or care of pets.

“A family may think, ‘Well of course they’re going to cook dinner every night.’ And a nanny may think, ‘I would never cook dinner. I’m not a cook. I’m a nanny,’” Alexander explains. “But if there’s not a discussion about it and it’s not in writing, then that can be difficult.”

Pro tip: Avoid vague terms like “light housekeeping” and instead itemize duties so that it is very clear.

2. Hours and pay: overtime, taxes and schedule of payment

Your contract should outline the schedule the nanny is being asked to work and how much they will be compensated. It should clearly state the hourly rate and what the gross salary comes to, Thomason says, along with overtime rates.

“It really helps to go over the hours expected; if they’re working over 40 or 45 hours in a week, are they getting paid time and a half?” Thomason says.

If you’re not sure what’s reasonable for pay, Care.com’s 2018 Cost of Care Survey found that the national average for weekly pay for a nanny is $580.

The contract should also state when and how the nanny will be paid, and who is responsible for withholding taxes. If you plan to give your nanny any bonuses or raises, this should also be covered in the contract, Thomason says, and it should be clear if they will be automatic or dependent on job performance.

3. Time off: vacation, sick days and backup care

Your contract should clearly state which holidays the nanny gets off and if the nanny will receive any paid time off. Thomason says two weeks of paid vacation per year is typical, though it’s important to indicate if the dates are up to the nanny or the family. She says in some cases, the timing of one of the weeks is the family’s choice, and the other week is the nanny’s choice. This is so the family can take a vacation the same time as their nanny to reduce the amount of time they have to find an alternative caregiver.

The contract should also clearly state if your nanny is expected or allowed to go on family vacations with you, and if so, what the pay rate is during that time.

Lastly, it should cover how much paid sick time your nanny will get. Thomason says five paid sick days is common for full-time nannies, but it can vary depending on your state’s laws and your preferences. It’s often wise to include details on what should happen if the nanny is too sick to come in for work but has used up all her paid sick days — and any emergency backup care might be available. For instance, you may want your nanny to be responsible for supplying a backup caregiver if they are unable to make it to work.

4. Transportation details

Transportation is an important safety issue that should be covered in your contract, Alexander says. She explains that it should outline if the nanny is allowed to transport your child regularly, and if not, if they are permitted to transport your child in an emergency. If driving is permitted, it should also say if the nanny will use her own car or your family car, and if there is a child safety seat provided and installed by your family. It can also include whether the nanny will be reimbursed for gas and/or mileage.

5. Performance reviews

Some nannies and families like to set official milestones for reviews. This could be to simply check in and see how things are going or to determine if the nanny is eligible for a raise. Some nannies like to sit down once a month for a review, while others may want an initial 30-day check-in and then an official review after six months. Talk to your nanny and find out what feels best for them and your family.

6. Termination

It’s wise to list your official grounds for termination in the contract, so you and the nanny are aware of what constitutes grounds for dismissal. This could include theft, substance abuse, or continuously showing up late. Keep in mind that employment laws vary by state, so consult with a local attorney to see if there are any employee rights you should be aware of.

Your contract should also include how much notice is required if either you or the nanny decide it’s time to part ways. It’s common to have two to four weeks’ notice so you have time to find a new nanny or other child care arrangements, and the nanny has time to find a new job. If you’re letting go of the nanny for reasons unrelated to her performance, it’s common to offer two weeks of severance. But if you’re firing her for a misstep, it’s more common to give severance of just a week, or no severance at all.

7. How amendments will be handled

As your kids grow and their needs change, it’s likely you’ll want to add to or adjust the contract, Alexander says.

“You’ll want some provision in the contract that says that the policies about the child’s day-to-day care will be amended as necessary,” she adds.

8. General house rules and guidelines

Thomason says there are several important items to get clear on that are very relevant to nannying but aren’t applicable to an employment contract in corporate America. For example, she says, is the nanny expected to swim? Are they required to not wear perfume? Do you require them to have CPR certification and flu shots? Do they need to keep the child on a special diet?

Alexander adds that you may want to also include information about whether it’s appropriate for the children to be disciplined, and if so, what that may entail.

How detailed you get about child care in the contract is totally up to you as the employer, says Alexander. She says she has seen some parents get so specific that they say how frequently the children should eat and when their diapers should be changed, while others don’t include much detail at all. It really depends on how experienced the nanny is, how experienced your family is with nannies and what feels right to both of you.

“You can always add things in writing that maybe aren’t as formal, like information on medications they take or that they must be taken to gymnastics on certain days, just to give the nanny some direction, and again, just to put things in writing so everybody is on the same page and has the same understanding about what’s going to happen,” Alexander says

You may also want to include details about whether your nanny is allowed to post pictures of your child on social media and if you will be using a nanny cam to monitor them.

While you may feel reluctant to ask your new nanny to use a written contract, keep in mind that it can help you and your employee start off on the same page and feel protected if anything goes amiss later.

“If the nanny previously agreed to something but is now refusing, you could look back at the document, and it would be grounds for discussion,” Thomason says. “It all comes down to expectations, and if the nanny is not abiding by what’s in that agreement, it gives the family grounds for finding a new nanny.”

Read next: How to arrange a trial run with a nanny

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