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With a written contract that spells-out such key facets of the (nanny) job as responsibilities, compensation, future raises, work hours, vacation time, and sick time, we could have avoided the few disagreements we've had, including ones over a Christmas bonus and a week off.

One of the most difficult challenges I’ve faced as a working mother has been adapting to my role as an employer. It’s been over seven years since my husband and I hired the wonderful woman who cares for our three boys while we’re at work. But I still feel unequal at times to the job of being someone’s – well, um, er – boss.

Managing a nanny is not easy in part because the relationship between parent and caregiver is so complex. On the one hand, you share similar roles. You’re probably also friends (after all, who wants to leave the kids with someone you can’t share a cup of coffee or a joke with?) But here’s the rub: At a certain point, your economic interests are sure to diverge. And if you let the relationship get too personal, you risk hurt feelings over the inevitable disagreement over money, vacation time, or some other aspect of the job.

Recently, friends with an adorable seven-month-old came for brunch. With the mother preparing to return to work, we had a conversation that touched on everything from how hard it is to leave your baby with a virtual stranger to the nuts-and-bolts of hiring and managing a babysitter. My advice: Don’t sweat the small stuff. For me, that has meant letting my kids watch a little TV and eat occasionally at McDonald’s (once a week? I hope so). Similarly, when a friend got upset because her nanny was putting her daughters’ clothes back in the wrong drawers, I advised her to focus on the big picture: Does the nanny exercise good judgment? Does she always keep the kids safe? Is she good to them? Do they have fun together? Does she discipline them appropriately?

Over the past seven years, my husband and I have made some mistakes. The biggest was not putting everything—-big and small-—that we really care about in writing at the outset. With a written contract that spells-out such key facets of the job as responsibilities, compensation, future raises, work hours, vacation time, and sick time, we could have avoided the few disagreements we've had, including ones over a Christmas bonus and a week off. (Of course, even the most detailed contract can’t anticipate every contingency you’ll face-—we had no plan for my babysitter’s maternity leave, for example.)

To help anyone hiring a nanny, I’ve typed up excerpts from the most comprehensive nanny employment contract I’ve seen. It comes courtesy of an expert-—my great friend and college roommate, Margaret Talcott, mother of two fantastic boys with seven years of experience employing nannies. As her boys’ nannies have left to marry, return to college, and move south, Margie has refined her contract to include anything that wasn’t adequately addressed before. You can also find similar contracts on the web .

A word of warning: If your relationship with your nanny has been informal, but you’d like to formalize it with a contract, use your judgment before presenting her with a "laundry" list (so to speak) of responsibilities-—remember, don’t sweat the small stuff. Here goes:

Contract for Nanny Services

Nanny responsibilities include:

• Children’s food, planning and cooking—breakfast, lunch, and dinner (when working past 5:15 p.m.)
• Children’s dishes/bottle cleaning, including restocking on shelves after cleaning.
• Children’s bedrooms and playrooms—keep tidy and clean, make beds, neaten crib, maintain order within drawers and toy storage areas.
• Children’s shopping – Nanny to stock house with necessary food and supplies for children (including diapers, wipes, and toiletries). Nanny responsible for purchase of creative, educational, and school supplies, in consultation with parents. Upon occasion, Nanny will also be asked to shop for children’s clothing/shoes. Payment of items: Family will leave cash; Nanny to provide receipts/change.
• Family dinner to be planned/cooked – twice weekly Nanny to plan, shop for, and cook simple main course to be eaten by whole family (Nanny also invited, if she likes!). Note: Needs of children take precedence over this responsibility.
• Family/Nanny dishwashing—Nanny is responsible for children’s & Nanny’s dishes. Nanny to occasionally unload dishwasher (approx. every third washing).
• Family Housecleaning – Only as required following the children’s play and cooking activities. General guideline: House to be left at level of neatness existent when Nanny arrives in the morning.
• Children’s laundry—washing, folding, re-stocking of all children’s clothing, bedding and bath linens. Remaking of cribs, beds following weekly sheet-changing.


Nanny work Schedule:
Nanny’s regular schedule is 8 a.m. to 6:15 p.m., Monday through Friday. Additional hours may be required when parents travel (1-2 times a month for 2-3 days each occurrence). Major adjustments in 8-6:15 schedule to be discussed with 4 week’s notice. Employer guarantees 40-hour/week payment, 52 weeks a year.


Compensation:
Nanny starting salary $10.50/hour with review August 11, 2000 (Editor’s note: This salary may be out of date, depending on where you live and how many kids you have).


Sick and Personal Time:
Nanny will be paid for up to 5 sick days over the course of the year. At the end of the year, sick days not taken may be applied to vacation (subject to family approval) or compensated with 25% bonus pay for each day not taken.


Paid Holidays:
Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, President’s Day, and Good Friday.


Vacation:
Nanny to be paid for two weeks vacation per year. Dates to be chosen at family’s discretion, most likely to coincide with family vacation. Note: It is very likely that the Nanny will be given additional paid vacation—two weeks is guaranteed, however.


Review:
Nanny and family to engage in formal review session, oral or written, at minimum 6-month intervals during the first year. Potential raises or bonuses to be discussed during that time.


Termination of Contract:
If Nanny wishes to leave the position, a minimum of 4 weeks’ notice is required. Should family wish to terminate during this 4-week period, severance will be provided for the balance. If family terminates the contract, 4 weeks’ notice will be provided unless there is just cause.

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