Guaranteed Hours, Clearing Up The Confusion

Because guaranteed hours in a unique benefit to the nanny field, it’s often misunderstood and misapplied.  In this article I’ve taken confusing situations that nannies and parents have encountered and unpacked them to provide clarity about how it all works in the real world.  If you haven’t read my article Should You Offer Guaranteed Hours to Your Nanny? you might want to start there so you have a solid understanding of what the benefit is and the reasoning behind it.

DEFINITION
Guaranteed hours is a standard industry benefit that states when a nanny is available and able to work and her employers choose not to use her services (e.g. they take off early on Friday for a long weekend, they go on vacation), the nanny is paid for a guaranteed number of hours in the workweek, generally equal to her typical schedule.

Guaranteed hours does not mean the nanny is paid for 52 weeks of the year.  Lots of things could happen to make the nanny unavailable (e.g. a nanny gets stuck in an airport due to bad weather and can’t make it home in time for her next shift) or unable to work (e.g. a nanny sprains her ankle and is off work for 2 weeks and has no unused sick time available) and in those cases, that time would go unpaid.

CHOICE
The core factor that determines if the guaranteed hours clause in a contract kicks in or not is choice.   Is the parent asking the nanny if she wants to take off and the nanny can choose to work and get paid or choose to take off and not get paid?  Or is the parent saying the nanny isn’t needed and she has the time off?  If the nanny chooses not to work, she’s not entitled to guaranteed hours.

Because conversations about extra time off can be very informal, it’s often hard to discern whose choice it is.  Here are some examples that show how changing a word or phrase can change the whole meaning of the interaction.

sick days
Parent says “I can stay home if you want to take another day off to recoup?”  The nanny has the choice to go in or stay home so the day isn’t covered by guaranteed hours.  If the nanny has unused paid sick time, she can still take the day off with pay.

Parent says “I don’t want to expose the kids to the stomach bug you have so please stay home until your fever is gone for 24 hours.”  It’s the parent’s choice for the nanny to stay home so guaranteed hours would cover the extra time off.

inclement weather days
Parent says “I’m going to be working from home today.  Make it in wherever you can.”  It’s the nanny’s choice to come in late or on time so any hours missed aren’t covered by guaranteed hours.

Parent says “I’m going to be working from home today.  The roads are a mess so you should just stay home.”  It’s the parent’s choice to have the nanny stay home so if she doesn’t have paid inclement weather days, the day is still paid under guaranteed hours.

unpaid holidays
Parent says “Turns out I’m off for Martin Luther King day so if you want to take the day off, you can.”  It’s the nanny’s choice to work or stay home so the day isn’t covered by guaranteed hours.

Parent says “Turns out I’m off for Martin Luther King day so I’m going to take the kids to the moves and out to eat.  You don’t need to come in.”  It’s the parent’s choice for the nanny to take the day off so the day is covered by guaranteed hours.

random time off
Parent says “I’ve decided to work from home on Friday afternoon.  If you don’t want to come in and instead take a long weekend, I can get the kids from school and they can entertain themselves for the afternoon.”  It’s the nanny’s choice to take the afternoon off or work so those hours aren’t covered by guaranteed hours.

Parent says “I’ve decided to work from home on Friday afternoon.  Don’t worry about sticking around after you get the shopping done.  I can get the kids from school and they can entertain themselves for the afternoon.”  It’s the parent’s choice for the nanny to leave early so the hours are covered by guaranteed hours.

If a nanny is unsure whose choice it is, simply clarify the options.  “I appreciate the offer however I don’t want to take unpaid time off so I’m happy to come in.  If you don’t need me, I’m happy to take the time off as paid under our guaranteed hours agreement.  What works for you?”

Sometimes the questions about time off are about big chunks of time like a full day or full week and it’s clear that it needs to be handled as outlined in the contract.  Other times the questions are about an hour or two here and there.  It can be handled as the contract outlines or it can be rolled into the “give and take” of the employment relationship.  For employers, that means giving your nanny extra paid time off whenever she isn’t needed rather than docking her pay or having her come in and do busy work.  For nannies, that means working those early mornings or late evenings without giving your employers an invoice for the extra time.  Both ways are valid and have a proven track record of success.  The important thing is that both sides are on the same page.  It’s a quick road to resentment if the family docks their nanny for an hour missed because of bad weather yet the nanny doesn’t charge for a parent’s late night due to heavy traffic.

AVAILABILITY
A key element of guaranteed hours is that the nanny has to be available to work.  There are two potential trouble spots around this piece: when time off is given then plans change and working when the kids are gone.  I want to look at each one.

Under guaranteed hours, if an employer gives the nanny extra time off but the employer’s plans change at the  last minute and the nanny is needed to work, the nanny must be available to work.  This can be a problem when the nanny has made other plans she can’t easily cancel or has financially invested in the time off (e.g. bought a plane ticket, booked a non-refundable hotel room).  However unless the parent and nanny have explicitly agreed that the time off will stand no matter what, the nanny has an obligation to work.  (The A to Z Nanny Contract includes the language needed to detail your agreement around this question.)

Another part of availability is working even when the child isn’t home.  So if the family is on vacation or away for the afternoon, it’s reasonable for employers to ask the nanny to come in and do tasks included in her job description such as clean and rotate the toys, organize the playroom, or organize the child’s closets.  It’s also reasonable to ask the nanny to do some limited tasks outside of her normal duties like bringing in the mail, watering the plants, or feeding the cat.  There are some nannies who balk at doing any tasks outside of the job description, however most nannies realize this is part of the give-and-take of the employment relationship.  The employer is willing to provide the valuable yet optional benefit of guaranteed hours and in return, the nanny is willing to pitch-in and help as needed.  All tasks should be able to be completed during the nanny’s normal working hours.  So asking her to feed the cat at noon is fine.  Asking her to walk the dog three times a day including a late evening walk past her normal off time isn’t.

For families that want to earn brownie points in the employment relationship, give your nanny extra paid time when you go on vacation rather than have her come in to do catch-up tasks.  You’ll have a nanny that’s not only appreciative but more willing to help out in other ways and more likely to stay long term.

PAID HOLIDAYS
When a nanny receives a paid holiday, the holiday hours get added to the hours worked to determine if she meets the guaranteed hours threshold.  Let’s look at Thanksgiving for an example.  A nanny is guaranteed 50 hours a week.  She works 10 hours a day Mon, Tues, Wed, and Fri and receives Thanksgiving, paid as 10 hours, as a paid holiday.  She’s reached her 50 hour threshold for the workweek so she’s not owed any additional hours.  If she decides to take Friday off to do her Black Friday shopping, she can take it as an extra PTO day or take it unpaid.  If her employer tells her she has Friday off because they’re leaving for Grandma’s early, she gets the day off with pay because that falls under guaranteed hours.

UNPAID HOLIDAYS, SICK DAYS, INCLEMENT WEATHER DAYS 
When a nanny agrees to receive an unpaid holiday off, those hours are always unpaid.  Let’s go back to Thanksgiving for an example: a nanny is guaranteed 40 hours a week for a Mon through Thurs workweek.  She works 10 hours a day for Mon, Tues, and Wed and receives Thanksgiving off as an unpaid holiday.  The unpaid holiday clause trumps the guaranteed hours clause – remember it’s her choice to take the unpaid holiday – so the nanny is only paid for 30 hours.  Not the 40 guaranteed hours.

This is true for unpaid sick days and inclement weather days too.  If the nanny agrees to take them off unpaid, they will always be unpaid even if she’s available and able to work.  It’s important to think about the implications of this before signing a nanny contract with unpaid days included.

OVERTIME 
It’s the industry standard to pay guaranteed hours as if they were worked so the nanny doesn’t lose money on unpaid overtime.  (This is also standard language in the A to Z Nanny Contract.)  In the last few years, some new employers and those new to paying legally have challenged this standard by wanting to pay the nanny’s regular rate for all guaranteed hours.  When overtime isn’t paid, the nanny loses money and can’t count on a stable income, the reason behind guaranteed hours.  For a nanny whose regular rate is $15/hour and typically works 50 hours a week, that’s a loss of $75 a week.  That may not seem like a lot of money to some employers however to many nannies, that’s a week of groceries or a utility bill.

SCHEDULE
Guaranteed hours are hours guaranteed within the nanny’s typical schedule.  This means that if the nanny doesn’t meet the threshold during her normal workweek, the family can’t simply have her to babysit on Saturday night to meet that threshold.  If she babysits on Saturday night, she receives her guaranteed wages for the workweek and extra for the hours on Saturday.

DIBS 
So what happens when a nanny asks to use paid time off (e.g. vacation, personal day) and then the family decides to go away during that time?  Because she asked for it before the family made their choice, it counts toward her PTO.  The good news is the time off Is hers even if the family’s plans change.

CONTRACT 
All of these factors should be clearly detailed in your nanny contract to avoid any confusion around when guaranteed hours are in effect and how they’re paid.  The A to Z Nanny Contract provides you with all the language you need to clearly outline guaranteed hours and a plethora of other issues.  Remember it’s not enough to just include the issue in the contract.  It’s the wording that matters.

Are there other circumstances where you’ve been confused about guaranteed hours?  I’d love to hear about it.  Please email me at info@nanycarehub.com.

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