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Here’s when babysitters need to get a contract and what to include

Elena Mauer
Dec. 27, 2018

When you start working as a babysitter for a family, there’s a lot to discuss in advance: everything from payment to house rules to emergency procedures. While a written agreement isn’t always necessary, if you sit for a family on a regular basis, drafting a contract can help you and your employer dot all the Is and cross the Ts.

“Contracts or work agreements are used as tools to help families and sitters remember all the important topics to cover [in advance of the job],” says Elizabeth Malson, president of Amslee Institute in Sarasota, Florida.

It might sound formal, but coming to a written agreement can start a dialogue about many aspects of the job you might not have thought to discuss, and it can ensure you’re on the same page about many aspects of your working relationship.

When is a babysitter contract necessary?

Some might argue that there should always be a babysitting contract. However, there are informal situations where you and your employer might decide it’s not necessary. For example, if you’re babysitting for a family member or a trusted friend for an occasional date night. If you’re babysitting regularly or often for a family, having an agreement in place is in the best interest of both you and the family.

“I tend to say that you should have a contract if you’re babysitting for a regularly scheduled activity, such as every afternoon or every month,” says Sidra Ellison, an instructor for Red Cross babysitting and childcare courses in Springfield, Massachusetts. “Have a contract any time you’re babysitting for a significant amount of time or have a regular routine, and you definitely need one if you’re working as a nanny.”

What should your babysitter contract include?

“The goal of a sitter contract is to clarify job duties, expectations, and compensation,” says Malson, and the paperwork can be as simple or as extensive as you and your employer want it to be.

Most important are these basics:

1. Your name, names and ages of children, parents/guardians, as well as contact info for your and parents/guardians

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

3. Compensation:

  • How much will you be paid for babysitting? Will it be an hourly rate? By day? Will there be on a retainer? These details should be specific.

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

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

  • What other expenses will be reimbursed? For example, if you take the child to the children’s museum, will you be reimbursed for mileage, the price of admission or lunch? Your employer should be clear about what they will pay for, if above your standard pay.

4. Your commitments:

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

  • What are the expectations in terms of care? Are you 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 you be expected to provide? Will you 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 the family, it’s important to outline them.

  • What special needs should you be aware of? If you’re 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 you should follow in order to avoid costly or potentially fatal mistakes.

5. Emergency procedures:

  • What should you do in case of an emergency? Many families already know to write down emergency contact numbers for the sitter. It’s crucial information for you to have, and it should also be clearly outlined in the written agreement. By signing the contract, it confirms you and your employer are on the same page about what you’re 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 or the family decides to end your working relationship. Typically, either party will have the right to terminate the agreement at any time.

  • How much advance notice is needed? Will you need to give notice if you don’t intend to work for this employer again? For as-needed care, this might not be necessary, but if you’re being hired for routine care, make sure the employer has outlined how far in advance you should give notice so you don’t burn a bridge when you decide to move on.

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

What other details should you align on?

Once you’ve got the basics down pat, you might want to discuss some other important aspects of your working relationship. These details might simply be part of a verbal agreement, or you might want to put them in writing, as well:

1. House rules: If the parents have any specific limits for the child — like no candy or soda, or no screen time an hour before bed — this should be outlined clearly.

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

3. Off-limits conduct and consequences: Are you allowed to have visitors while you’re babysitting? Use the computer? Are there places in the house where you shouldn’t go? And if these restrictions are violated, will it be grounds for dismissal? Will pay be deducted? If so, your employer should clearly outline what will happen if you violate specified restrictions.

4. Health expectations for you: Are you expected to be up to date on vaccinations like the flu shot? Under what circumstances should you not watch the child when you’re sick — for example, if you have a temperature above 100.1 degrees?

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

6. Child’s schedule: If the child needs to stick to a specific routine, the parents should 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., they should include that itinerary.

7. Discipline: What discipline is expected and what isn’t? If the parents have a very specific way they’re like their child to be disciplined — such as using redirection instead of punishment — it’s important they make that very clear for you, so you can carry out their wishes.

8. Tax withholding and reporting (if applicable): Employers should outline how they’ll handle withholding and reporting taxes on those wages as the “employer” and outline their responsibilities in the agreement.

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

Your employer may broach the subject of a written agreement or contract with you, since they’re the ones welcoming you into their home and entrusting you with their child’s safety. But if they don’t mention a contract, you should feel free to bring it up.

“It will be the most professional thing that a family will see and they will respect it very much,” assures Rachel Charlupski, founder of the Babysitting Company in Miami, Florida. Here are some tips for discussing a contract with an employer:

  • Be upfront: Clearly explain why you think a written agreement is a good idea for both you and your employer and how it can better clarify your expectations of one another.

  • Take your time: If your employer hands you a contract, don’t just sign it on the spot. Ask for a day or two to look it over, and ask for a second opinion if you’re unsure you want to agree to anything on it. “If you’re under age or living with your parents or guardians, they should be involved directly with managing and reviewing the contract,” says Ellison.

  • … or give time: If you’re the one writing the agreement, then allow your employer time as well. “A sitter should give enough time for the parents to look over the contract and ask any questions,” says Charlupski.

  • Set realistic expectations, says Charlupski: Make sure you’re not overpromising or asking too much of your employer when it comes to details like cancellation policies, overtime pay and house rules.

  • Update the contract: If, after some time on the job, something in the contract isn’t working out, or if you discover a new aspect of the job that should be included, you can revisit the paperwork. “As things come up, the contract should be amended,” says Charlupski.

What is the absolute bare minimum you should do?

Regardless of whether you have a written contract or not, you should still have an open conversation where you discuss all of the above points with your employer. Making sure you’re both in verbal agreement about the important details is key to success and satisfaction for both parties.

Malson says you can take it one step further by writing down those discussion points and going over it with your employer before you start the job.

“I recommend sitters share a short, one-page document in person during the interview or as an email follow up that lists the kids’ names, any food or other allergies, emergency contact information and list their hourly rate,” says Malson. “Most families are receptive to helping the sitter create a family information page with house rules and approved snacks.”

That one-page document is an important resource you can take along with you and easily refer to while you’re on the job.

“To take away the formality around the word 'contract', sitters can call it a family summary page,” says Malson. “If they want to make it a formal agreement, then sitters add a space for both parties to sign and date.”

Read next: How to write a resume to get you the babysitting job

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