What to Know When Hiring At-Home Care

When hiring at-home care, you have a chance to vote with your dollars and make your space a just workplace.
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Source: Shutterstock

Bringing an outside caregiver into your home is such a personal decision and can make you feel vulnerable. Whether the person is there to work with your kids, an elder, or a family member with a disability, it can feel awkward to have a stranger there doing the job. Imagine being on the other side—domestic workers are often women, immigrants, non-native English speakers, and/or from other vulnerable groups. 

When you hire a domestic caregiver, you are working together to create a caring environment and you can use your justice and equity values to guide that relationship. At Green America we talk a lot about using your money to express your values—we call it voting with your dollars. When someone works for you, think of yourself as an employer and what kind of workplace and policies you want to have. 

“Most people who employ someone in their homes don’t think of themselves as employers because of legacies of oppression in the United States, which begins with workers being left out of landmark labor policies,” says Erica Sklar of Hand in Hand, the domestic employers network. “So before people even start their research, stepping into the identity of ‘employer’ is really important.”

Rethink your role:

It is a symbiotic relationship—and to borrow biology terms, you want it to be a mutualistic relationship, where both parties benefit, not a parasitic one, where one takes and the other gives. There may be tension sometimes, like in any workplace, but you can return to questions that ask how you both can benefit.

We are more than our work—at Green America, we often quote folk singer, Charlie King, saying “Our life is more than our work, and our work is more than our job.” That’s true for domestic workers as well. Caregiving encompasses many kinds of different work, plus workers have whole lives outside of the homes they work in. Being compassionate to that will go a long way. 

Making your home a safe and hospitable work environment can mean better care, and a better life for the worker. It can also be a big lift. Hand in Hand offers tons of resources for employers to start thinking about wages, leave, and other concerns during the hiring stage. It also offers checklists of topics to consider in advance and steps to take as you bring a nanny, cleaner, or health attendants into your home—find those resources at domesticemployers.org. Sklar also recommends introducing your employee to the National Domestic Workers Association because domestic workers often work alone, which can be very isolating. By joining that group they can become aware of their rights and find solidarity with each other and with justice-minded employers.

Before people even start their research, stepping into 
the identity of ‘employer’ is really important. 
—Erica Sklar, Hand in Hand 

Offer fair pay and time off: 

If you’re not working through a hiring service (a visiting nurses association for example), the person coming into your home is working for themselves and wouldn’t have days off unless they are given by you. Christy Schwengel, director of major gifts at Green America, is a mom of two whose nanny worked with her family for 10 years. She offered vacation, sick leave, and snow days, as well as pay if her family canceled at the last minute.

“Our motto was, if we were paid and off, she should be paid and off,” Schwengel says.

Determining what to pay and how much time off to give is a conversation between you and your employee, but there are guidelines in the bevy of resources online. Don’t forget to check laws, Sklar reminds—domestic workers do have rights, but they’re not nationally mandated. Do an internet search for “domestic worker laws” and your state.

Communicate and consider a contract: 

Make sure to talk about important issues upfront. Hand in Hand works with the National Domestic Workers Alliance to create sample contracts in English and Spanish, to talk through important issues with care workers in advance. A contract is a good way to have a conversation right at the beginning to plainly state assumptions and eliminate guessing one another’s needs. A contract can also be a good place to outline your family’s covid-19 precautions and what you expect from someone working in your home. Make sure the conversation is two-way, so that an employee may express concerns or add their needs into the contract as well. 

Share the work, if the fit is right:

Marketing manager Dana Christianson likes using a nanny share for her toddler, to lessen the cost and switch off the location of kids and a nanny. Shares can be challenging to navigate but can be worth it if you find a family in your area with similar values when it comes to childcare. Hand in Hand also has resources about navigating nanny shares.

Sklar recommends signing Hand in Hand’s Fair Care Pledge, because having solidarity among ethical domestic employers is important for creating fair policies that include, instead of discount, the importance of care work done at home. 

“We know that most people want to be ethical employers, but what that looks like is not always clear, and that’s particularly unclear in a pandemic,” says Sklar. “Once you sign the fair care pledge, we send you any resources we develop because we’re constantly meeting our moment and expanding our resources.” 

Bringing anyone into your home, it is always important to feel safe, sure, and secure, but remember that those feelings should go both ways. When hiring at-home care, make sure to be provide a just work place.

From Green American Magazine Issue