A contract, even a simple contract, will increase the likelihood of a successful relationship between your family and your employees. The primary value of a contract is that it puts in writing the basic expectations, rights and responsibilities of all parties so there should be little opportunity for confusion, misunderstanding, miscommunication, and failure.
Many people “fear” a written contract as too formal, too complicated, or too restrictive. But fear of “breaching” the contract and the consequences that may follow are usually far outweighed by the benefits they bring to the relationship. We are not suggesting a 50 page document full of “legalese”. Usually, a simple one page document written in simple, understandable terms, often just in the form of a letter, will accomplish the purpose.
The main focus of the document should be to set out the parties’ expectations. The agreement should spell out the employee’s primary duties and responsibilities (what tasks they are expected to perform and which ones they are not expected to perform), the scheduled days and hours, the compensation and how that compensation is calculated, any additional benefits (such as paid or unpaid days off, vacation, holidays, car allowance, insurance, extra benefits or duties when travelling with the family) and any other rules or limitations there may be on the employee’s conduct (such as no-smoking restrictions, limitations on cell phone use, access to the family car or other policies). These terms also help establish the employee’s understanding regarding what is expected of them and what they receive in return for performing their part of the agreement.
The agreement should create a clear understanding of when or how often the employee’s performance will be reviewed, when the employee will be eligible for an increase in compensation, and whether the increase is discretionary or automatic. The agreement can (and should) provide that the employment is “at will”, meaning that the relationship can be terminated by either party with or without cause and with or without notice (unless, of course, you prefer more specific terms).
Not everything in the agreement needs to be spelled out in hard-and-fast terms. Provisions can leave room for flexibility or areas left to the mutual agreement of the employee and the family or the discretion of the family. But even these clauses often provide both parties with a common understanding of how unanticipated issues or situations may be resolved. And, the agreement can be modified whenever it is felt that new or different terms are appropriate.
One item that definitely should be included in a written agreement is the subject of confidentiality and non-disclosure. Since the employee will have access to your home, your possessions, your confidential papers–and even to your confidential, personal conversations–it is essential that there be a clear (preferably written and enforceable) understanding of the limitations and restrictions on the employee’s communication of those things to others. Such a confidentiality provision should be broad enough to prohibit disclosure of any information about any family member or anyone in the home, even as a guest, as well as any conversation by or with any family member. The employee should be prohibited from even disclosing information about such things as medical issues, when the family may be on vacation or away from home, or other “comings and goings” or habits or activities of family members.
So, even a simple document that sets out the basic expectations, rights and responsibilities of both parties can serve as a valuable asset in clarifying the relationship early and avoiding confusion, anxiety or disagreements in the future. Both the family and the employee enter the relationship wanting the relationship to be mutually beneficial. A written agreement goes a long way towards accomplishing those goals.
First Class Care has available for clients some sample (and simple) contracts and non-disclosure agreements to help you get started. But whatever form it takes, we do recommend that you PUT IT IN WRITING.