When I first returned to work after maternity leave, I wasn’t sure which was scarier: returning to work or worrying about the caregiver for my child while I was at work. My working mommy friends and I have more than our fair share of war stories – – from nannies who never showed up for their first day of work leaving us stranded on Monday morning to au pairs who were so homesick that they never lasted more than a day. Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but I always feel more at ease having a set of written rules with my childcare provider. I know from experience that they can help avoid misunderstandings altogether or at least smooth over stressful situations that could otherwise end a relationship.
In my experience, the more detailed and specific you are in the rules, the better. Consider covering the following areas:
1. Work schedule. Confusion over work schedule and compensation can be major sources of stress with your caregiver, so I’ll cover those first. Your rulebook should clearly spell out work hours and schedule. Be specific about time for breaks, vacations, and what happens if you need to work late, your child is sick, or school is closed, dismissed early, or delayed for inclement weather. Your rulebook should specify when your provider takes vacation, how much vacation time is allowed, whether she will be paid while your family is on vacation, and whether there are any restrictions on personal time off, like aligning vacation days with the school calendar or major events at work.
2. Compensation and benefits. Be specific. Identify the rate of pay, whether that rate will change if your caregiver works nights, weekends or holidays, and agree on how often your caregiver will be paid (typically weekly). It helps to confirm exactly what, if any, benefits are covered, including vacation, sick days, cell phone, auto or health insurance, personal days, or paid holidays (and specify which holidays).
3. Responsibilities and privileges. Having a clear and detailed list of your caregiver’s responsibilities sets expectations and can avoid disappointment with her work performance. In addition to caring for the kids, will she handle any cooking, cleaning, laundry, pet care, household chores, errands, or transportation? It also helps to clarify when your nanny can use her cell phone, have guests over, or use your car or other personal items in your home like a home computer. It’s also helpful to specify whether you are providing meals or whether she should bring her own. Again, the more detailed your rulebook is, the better.
4. Activities. Create a list of specific activities your nanny can do with your child and be clear about what is not permissible. If you have a rule about limiting how much time your child spends watching television or playing video games, be specific about how many minutes or what shows your child is allowed to watch. If your babysitter will be taking your child to birthday parties or playdates, be clear about whether the party is a drop off event. You can avoid awkwardness by clarifying how you will pay your nanny for activities outside the home, like whether you plan to give her a set allowance so she can ensure she stays within that budget or reimburse her at the end of the week.
5. Communication. Your rulebook is all about setting expectations and they should spell out how and when you expect the nanny to communicate with you during the day. If you prefer only to be contacted via text message, say it. If you want your provider to fully document all of your child’s activities while you were at work, be clear about that as well. I’ve also found it helpful to schedule periodic employment reviews to talk about how things are going and reassess any areas of your rulebook.
6. Transportation. It’s very helpful to be specific about transportation and related logistics. Will your provider have her own car, will you reimburse her for wear and tear, gas, maintenance, and insurance? If she’s using her own car for work purposes, think about type and amount of coverage she must have or, if she will be using your family car, add her to your policy. If you rely on public transportation, be clear about the rules for taking your children on subways or buses. You may think it goes without saying about drinking, texting, or talking on her cell phone while driving, but your rules should make those prohibitions crystal clear.
7. Confidentiality. Facebook can be a convenient way of staying in touch with your nanny during the day. But, be clear about whether your caregiver can mention your family, post pictures of your children. Personal, medical, career and financial information of family should not be discussed outside of the family, including in her social media activities.
8. Notice and severance. Despite your best efforts, the relationship may not work out. Your rulebook can provide some protections and otherwise reduce the stress involved in a termination. Consider adding a notice provision so that you can have time to seek alternative childcare providers (and provide one or two weeks of additional pay when notice is provided as an incentive for the caregiver not to just walk out the door).