3 Most Common Nanny and Family Communication Issues

Originally posted by Kathleen Webb of HomeWork Solutions

By Dr. Lindsay Heller, Psy. D. 

Communication with your nannyWorking with a nanny can be one of the most rewarding options your family chooses in their lifetime. The key to a successful relationship with your nanny is without fail having a clear and open communication channel.  In light of recent events in the news showcasing untraditional situations portraying nannies in a negative light, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that these families failed to implement the following things. Let’s use this as a learning tool to move forward and do things the proper way!

Have A Formal Work Agreement

It is way too often that I see families taking on new nannies and just starting to pay them under the table because things appear to be “working out just right.” Inviting someone into your home on such a frequent basis requires deliberate care and decision-making. Yet despite how intuitive or excited you might feel about your new nanny, it’s imperative that you have a written work agreement outlining duties expectations, rates, holidays etc. – anything and everything that you would see in a formal contract of any nature. If and when expectations change in the future from either you or your nanny, you will want to have everything cleanly and neatly written down to avoid disaster down the line!

Establish Preferred Mode(s) of Communication

The way that each mom or dad prefers to be contacted will of course vary from family to family. I have and always will stand by that in-person communication trumps all! There is nothing like face-to-face connection in order to get your point across or to set guidelines clearly and efficiently. Be sure to set-up with your nanny how you would like to be contacted on a daily basis. Are you looking for daily text check-ins? Do you prefer a weekly e-mail summary of updates, photos, or thoughts? What is the most appropriate form of communication in your household? Decide before hiring your nanny and then set the expectations. A new popular idea is that nannies are keeping written Kid Logs, kind of like a journal, only it’s made specifically for the parents with weekly updates. This is a great memento for the kids down the line, too!

Address Conflicts Immediately

While in an ideal world, everything in our household would run smoothly 24/7, as parents, we know that this is often far from the case. If and when conflicts arise or you see something that your nanny is doing you’d like done differently, do not hesitate to reach out and gently acknowledge the issue at hand. Tip: Do wait until the children are in another room, or are sleeping etc., as they should not be exposed to witnessing the conflict. But I encourage you to reach out to your nanny right away. Use a firm but caring voice, ask questions, and offer suggestions as to how the situation can improve. Holding in your feelings will only prolong the situation and make things worse. Nip conflicts in the bud and you’ll feel happier and more relaxed, trust me!

Lindsay Heller Nanny DoctorDr. Heller is a mother of two sweet girls. When she’s not playing “tea party,” she’s a professional nanny consultant known as The Nanny Doctor. She blogs, tweets, and Facebooks endless nanny wisdom. Check her out here at TheNannyDoctor.com or on Twitter @thenannydoctor.

Nightmare Nanny? It doesn’t have to be this way….

by Kathleen Webb of HomeWork Solutions

The Bracamonte family and their former “nanny” Diane Stretton put the term “Nightmare Nanny” into our vocabulary this summer. The Bracamonte family “hired” Ms. Stretton to care for their children in exchange for room and board, and when the relationship fell apart Stretton refused to move out. That is when the Bracamonte’s nightmare nanny story began.

Nightmare Nanny Background ScreeningThis scenario is so rare and so frightening it became a cause celebre on the news, including such prime-time shows as ABC’s 20/20. So exactly what went wrong and how do you avoid this risk when you hire live-in caregivers?


An employee is paid a wage for work performed. Household employees such as a nanny or senior caregiver are entitled to some basic labor protections such as pay at no less than the hourly minimum wage, unemployment coverage, and workers’ compensation protections. The nanny or caregiver may be provided room and board, but it must be contingent on continued employment (a lawyer can help you here!). The Bucamonte family essentially rented a room to Stretton in exchange for some childcare – establishing a tenancy arrangement that had nothing to do with employment. Stretton paid her rent with childcare.


Household employment experts all agree, a written work agreement between the family and the nanny or caregiver is a best practice. This memoralizes the employment agreement, including compensation, benefits (lodging and meals) and other factors that establish the relationship between the employer and the worker. A properly written work agreement (and legal pay) would have precluded Stretton from claiming tenant rights. Tenancy laws vary by state – consult a legal expert in your state for help if you don’t feel comfortable going it alone in this area.


Any familiy who is hiring a nanny or caregiver to care for their vunerable family members – whether they be children or seniors – must do thorough pre-employment screening of anyone they wish to hire. All too often a family will ‘follow their gut’ based on an interview and neglect this important part of the hiring process. Minimum screening should include:

  • SSN Trace to verify applicant identity
  • Verification of address history
  • Criminial records trace using all names used in the prior 7 years
  • Sex Offender Registry screen
  • National Criminal Records Locator service screen
  • Driving records check (optional)
  • Civil records check (optional)
  • Drug screening (optional)

The news media was quickly able to find detailed records of prior civil court cases involving Stretton – the Bracamonte family could have learned about this in advance too.



Checking an applicant’s references can be a tedious process, and families are often in a hurry to staff that caregiving vacancy. No matter how rushed the process, how urgent the need, DO NOT hire a nanny or caregiver without having a detailed conversation with their references, particularly former employers. Keep calling, texting, emailing until you can talk to the reference. A former employer who will not make themselves available for even a brief phone call may be avoiding a situation where they are asked questions they prefer not to answer.

California and District of Columbia Minimum Wage Increases July 1

by Kathleen Webb of HomeWork Solutions

Nannies and other household employees, with limited exceptions, are covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act and must be paid no less than the greater of the Federal or state/local minimun wage.

Effective for work performed July 1, 2014 and forward, you must:

  • Pay your California household worker at no less than $9.00 per hour. Note there are higher minimum wage ordances in some cities such as San Francisco ($10.74) and San Jose ($10.00).
  • Pay your District of Columbia household worker no less than $9.50 per hour.

Clients who employ foreign household workers in the District of Columbia with a G-5 or A-3 visa must begin paying this higher minimum wage for work performed on July 1 and forward. As of 19 June 2014 the July 1 change to the prevailing local wage has not been published by the US Department of Labor.

To confirm the minimum wage where you live, click here.

Every Caregiver Needs an Emergency Contacts Form

by Kathleen Webb of HomeWork Solutions

Are you a nanny caring for young children or a senior caregiver caring for a frail adult? Do you employ a nanny or senior caregiver? Does this caregiver know how to reach important parties in an emergency? Every caregiver should be provided with an Emergency Contacts list at the start of employment.

senior care emergency contactConsider the story of our clients Mike and Maryanne. Maryanne is an elementary school teacher. Mike is retired, and is living with early-onset dementia and diabetes. Maryanne and Mike hired a daily caregiver to keep Mike company and supervise his day while Maryanne is at work.

The caregiver’s duties include helping Mike take his medication every day at lunch. Maryanne prepares a weekly “pill box” for the caregiver. About a month after the caregiver began working, she noticed that the pill box was not in its ususal location on top of the refrigerator. She looked around the kitchen and living areas and could not find it. She knew that Mike’s diabetes medication was very important, and that he needed to take it with his meal. She asked Mike and he didn’t know where it was. She then asked Mike where she could find Maryanne’s work number to call her. As a teacher Maryanne’s cell phone is turned off during class time. Mike became agitated, he (and the caregiver) knew she taught 2nd grade but he could not remember the name of the school. The caregiver knew Mike often remembers information when prompted, and had the presence of mind to pull up a list of county elementary schools on her phone. She calmed Mike down and began reading off the names of the different schools. She worked her way about half way down the list before Mike recognized the school.

This story has a happy ending – the caregiver called the school office and was able to reach Maryanne and resolve the medication issue. The situation did, however, drive home to both Maryanne and her employee the importance of drawing up and communicating emergency contact procedures.

Maryanne called HomeWork Solutions and a team member emailed her an Emergency Contacts Worksheet. The team member also reminded Maryanne that she needed the same information about her employee – who would Maryanne call if the caregiver had an accident or medical emergency?

HomeWork Solutions works with families in all types of household employment situations and has many resources to help families in areas outside payroll processing. These included:

We welcome your phone calls. Don’t hesitate to call us at 800.626.4829 if you have a household employment question and we will do our best to connect you with the appropriate resources.

Other Resources:

Emergency Preparedness for Nannies and Senior Caregivers


Summer Nanny Payroll Services

by Kathleen Webb of HomeWork Solutions

School is out, and families nationwide are turning to summer nannies to provide safe, individualized caregiving for their young children over the summer holidays.

nanny w young boy1-resized-600Most summer nannies will earn enough over the summer to obligate the family for payroll tax payments and reporting – the so-called “nanny taxes.”

HomeWork Solutions is here to help! We will cheerfully prorate our summer nanny payroll or payroll tax-only service fees so you only pay for the services you need. You have a short-term need for services for a short term summer nanny and HWS can make this both easy and affordable.

What you need to know:

  1. If you pay your summer nanny $1900 or more, you are subject to the “nanny taxes”
  2. If you privately hired your summer nanny, a nanny background check is a recommended practice
  3. Workers’ Compensation Insurance may be legally required – HWS can help, our preferred vendor will issue this insurance for our clients with no application fee
  4. Your summer nanny is due a W-2 form in January 2015, be sure you have a permanent address

HWS’s nanny payroll specialists are available to answer your questions, provide you guidance, and help you estimate your payroll tax expense and your employee withholding. Best of all, this is a free telephone consultation! Call 800.626.4829 today.

Outsourced summer nanny payroll … important peace of mind for your family!

Unpaid Wages and Unpaid Overtime Lawsuits Rise for 7th Straight Year

by Kathleen Webb of HomeWork Solutions

The D.C. law firm of Seyfarth Shaw, specializing in Wage & Hour Litigation, reports that Federal lawsuits for unpaid wages and unpaid overtime – know as Wage and Hour Complaints – rose last year to an all time high of 8,126 cases.

describe the imageThis marks the 7th consecutive year that these Federal suits have risen, and they are up 438% since 2000. Richard Alfred, chair of Seyfarth’s Wage & Hour Litigation practice, reports that these numbers “would be even higher if wage and hour lawsuits filed in state courts under state pay practices, data which isn’t readily available, were added.”

For individuals, state wage and hour complaints are typically the first step taken to recover unpaid wages or unpaid overtime. Every state makes these services readily available to individuals, and there are support staff to assist with completing the paperwork and pursuing these matters.

Household employers can protect themselves from costly errors, as well as the embarassment of dealing with a formal complaint, by taking the following simple steps:

  1. Always have your household employee’s compensation IN WRITING and stated in hourly rate terms. HomeWork Solutions’ free Hourly Rate Calculator will translate your desired weekly wage to your household worker into the appropriate hourly and overtime rates for you.
  2. Maintain time and attendance records – either electronically using any number of available smart phone apps, or in paper form using tools such as a week at a glance calendar.
  3. Always pay for overtime. Families often think they can just offer compensatory time off (comp time) and avoid the extra expense. Don’t go there, it is not legal under the FLSA.

describe the imageHomeWork Solutions’ staff is available at any time for a free telephone consultation to help you understand these rules. Give us a call at 800.626.4829. Nanny unpaid overtime complaints have risen noticeably in the last decade, and an ounce of prevention can help you steer clear of this hassle.


by Tom Breedlove of Breedlove & Associates

When a nanny, housekeeper or senior caregiver is paid legally, they are entitled to certain benefits that are earned through the payroll and tax process. But because many household employees are younger in age, sometimes they don’t realize how important these benefits are. In this edition of The Legal Review, the Hanson family finds themselves in a big mess after their long-time nanny decides she’s ready to stop working.

The Situation

The Hanson family lives in upstate New York and has employed a nanny named Bonnie for the past four years. Unlike most nannies, Bonnie was 60 years old when the Hansons hired her, but had a wealth of experience with childcare as she was a stay-at-home mom for most of her life. Before working for the Hansons, the only job Bonnie ever had was working in a local retail shop for 8 years. With her upbeat personality and her love for children, she was a great fit for the Hansons after their first child was born and they were ecstatic to hear she would take on the challenge of a second child two years later.

The Mistake

When the Hansons first hired Bonnie, they asked their neighbors how they handled hiring a nanny for their kids. The Hanson’s neighbors explained they paid their nanny like they would a babysitter and gave her cash at the end of each week. Bonnie agreed with this arrangement and she was paid in cash every Friday for four years.

The Law

When a family hires a household employee to work in their home, they are required to withhold Social Security & Medicare (FICA) taxes from their employee’s pay each pay period. Federal and state income taxes – while not explicitly required to be withheld – should be deducted as well to ensure the employee does not get stuck with a large tax bill during tax season.

The family is also required to pay a matching portion of FICA taxes, as well as federal and state unemployment insurance taxes. Some states, like New York, also require additional taxes to either be withheld from an employee or paid by an employer. Please visit our state-specific pages for details on the taxes in your state.

At the end of the year, the family is required to prepare a W-2 for their employee so they can file their personal income tax return. The family is also required to file Form W-2 Copy A and Form W-3 with the Social Security Administration and prepare a Schedule H to attach to their personal income tax return.

The Mess

After four years of working for the Hansons, Bonnie was 64 and nearing the age for retirement. In trying to prepare for this exciting time, she enlisted the help of a local CPA to gauge what her benefits would be so she could budget for the next chapter of her life. Unfortunately, when the CPA learned Bonnie had no employment records for the previous four years, he had to be the bearer of bad news and told her she was ineligible for Social Security benefits. This is because the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires a minimum of 40 credits (or 10 years of work) to be accrued before a person can earn retirement benefits – and Bonnie could only prove she had eight years in retail.

Bonnie was confused and asked the CPA how she could get credit for the last four years of her working career so she could retire at the end of the year. The CPA explained that the Hanson family would need to catch up on four years’ worth of payroll reporting and tax returns in order for the SSA to approve Social Security benefits for her. With this information in hand, Bonnie approached the Hansons, who were understandably embarrassed and guilt-ridden at the thought of their long-time nanny not being able to retire on her schedule.

The Outcome

The Hansons wanted to help Bonnie in any way they could. After four years working in their home, she was a valued member of their household and a grandmotherly figure to their children. The CPA Bonnie consulted with happened to have a couple of clients with household employees and told the Hansons to contact Breedlove & Associates about the late tax returns. While he knew the steps they needed to take to make everything right for them and Bonnie, he wasn’t interested in taking on four years’ worth of payroll and taxes.

The Hansons called Breedlove & Associates the next day and we were able to get them caught up on their employer taxes. We set them up as household employers with the IRS and the state of New York, gathered the four years’ worth of payroll information for Bonnie, filed the late tax returns, and best of all, sent tax information for the family and Bonnie to the Social Security Administration so Bonnie could get the working credits she needed for retirement. The family unfortunately incurred thousands of dollars in back tax payments and interest, but we were able to get the state of New York to waive the majority of the penalties they assessed. Bonnie will turn 65 in November and she’s now set up to retire just in time for the holiday season.

How the Whole Thing Could Have Been Avoided

If the Hansons had verified what their neighbor said via an accountant or even a simple Google search, they would have realized paying Bonnie in cash was not the right course of action. When families become household employers for the first time, they often have a laundry list of questions. It’s important that they are steered toward a resource that can set them up for success. We’re always available for your clients when they need this initial consultation and it’s free for them to call. Sometimes a ten minute conversation can save a family like the Hansons thousands of dollars.


Built by household employers exclusively for household employers, Breedlove & Associates provides a no-work, no-worry solution to paydays, tax time and all points in between. If you have any questions about household employment or want to take advantage of our complimentary New Employer Orientation, just give us a call. We’re here to help.