Friday, August 29, 2008

Put it in Writing: The Value of Employment Agreements

By Robert E. King, Esq., Founder, Legally Nanny®

You’ve just hired your nanny or other household employee. You’re thrilled, she’s thrilled, and you’re in the employer-employee version of a honeymoon. You can’t imagine that anything will ever go wrong.

While in most cases, fortunately, that’s true, in other cases things can get contentious if your understanding of the details of your arrangement is somehow different than your employee’s understanding of them. This is where ugly disputes can begin, some of which may ultimately cause the end of the employment relationship. Shared expectations are critical and, as with most things in life, the devil is in the details.

Even though this employer-employee relationship will and should be more familiar than most – your nanny is an important figure in your child’s life and is in your home, after all – you should not be too casual about your relationship. Remember that on a basic level it needs to be professional: right from the beginning, make sure that you’re clear about your expectations. This includes performance, days off, and more. The more specific you can be, the more smoothly things are likely to go. This is where employment agreements can be invaluable, so that there are no unpleasant surprises on either side.
What is an Employment Agreement?
Sometimes referred to as a contract, an employment agreement outlines a nanny’s terms of employment and specifies how the employer expects her to care for the children. As an aside, the title of the document, i.e. contract, employment agreement, or work agreement, doesn’t matter; they are all essentially the same document. More importantly, the agreement is legally enforceable and greatly reduces potential disputes.

Let’s say, for example, that you are offering your employee five vacation days per year. You were planning for her to accrue them throughout the course of the year, but didn’t articulate that to her; meanwhile, she wants to take all five paid vacation days during her second month on the job. Had you spelled it out completely in an employment agreement, a potential dispute could have been avoided.

An employment agreement should contain important provisions such as listing the nanny’s job duties, work hours and compensation, detailing, for example, any vacation, sick days and holidays you are planning to offer your nanny.

Many household employers also utilize an employment agreement to emphasize their privacy and confidentiality expectations of their nannies, important points when you have someone working so closely within your home. The document should include anything you and your nanny have agreed to so that there is no ambiguity down the road.

This document can be complicated and is not like a typical agreement used in corporate or non-household settings. Rather, it should be tailored specifically with domestic employment issues, laws, and requirements in mind.

Further, the document is legally binding on all parties who sign it or otherwise consent to its terms. Thus if a family and a nanny sign off on an employment agreement, either party can enforce its terms, most typically through a breach of contract action if either side fails to live up to its obligations. The legally binding nature of this agreement makes it all the more critical to have an experienced attorney draft this important document specifically for your household employment situation.

Robert E. King, Esq. is the Founder of Legally Nanny, the leading law firm representing household employers and domestic employment agencies. Legally Nanny assists clients in hiring, employing, and paying nannies, elder care providers, and other household employees legally. For more information, feel free to contact the firm at (714) 336-8864 or at for a free initial consultation.

© Copyright 2008 Legally Nanny. All rights reserved. This article is for informational purposes only; it is not legal advice. This material is not intended to seek employment in any jurisdiction in which Legally Nanny is not allowed to provide professional services.