Benefits: Should You Offer Guaranteed Hours to Your Nanny?

Guaranteed hours are one of the most confusing aspects of employing a nanny. At first glance, the idea doesn’t make much sense. Why would you pay a nanny for hours she doesn’t work? Well, there are good reasons and hopefully this article will shed some light on them.

So what are guaranteed hours exactly?
When a family provides a nanny with guaranteed hours it means that if the family chooses not use the nanny during her regularly scheduled hours, she’ll be paid for those hours anyway. So if Mom comes home at lunch to spend time with the kids before she leaves on a business trip and she lets the nanny go home early, the nanny will still be paid for those afternoon hours. If the parents leave early Friday morning to get a jump start on a long weekend at the mountains, the nanny will still be paid for the full day. If the whole family goes on vacation for a week in the summer, the nanny will be paid for the full week.

If the nanny decides to take time off (assuming she doesn’t have paid vacation time or sick days available), the family isn’t required to pay her for that time. So if the nanny takes the afternoon off to attend a special event, the family isn’t required to pay her for those hours. If the nanny calls in sick after using all her paid sick days, the family isn’t required to pay her for that day. If Grandma has the kids for the morning and the nanny is given the option of organizing the kid’s playroom or taking the morning off and she decides to take the morning off, the family isn’t required to pay her for that time.

The bottomline is if the family decides they don’t need the nanny to work, she’s paid for the time anyway. If the nanny decides she can’t or doesn’t want to work, she’s not paid for the time.

Am I legally required to provide guaranteed hours?
No, providing guaranteed hours isn’t legally required. However it is a standard benefit in the industry. Employers that don’t offer guaranteed hours will be passed over by most experienced nannies who require this guarantee as part of their standard benefit package. Families that do find a nanny willing to work without this guarantee, usually a caregiver new to the industry, often run into trouble within the employment relationship over this issue. (I’ll talk more about why that is below.)

Why should I pay my nanny when she doesn’t work?
Your nanny relies on a regular paycheck to meet her financial obligations and goals. That means she needs to receive her full pay every week of the year. If she’s docked pay when you come home early or go away, it impacts her in a real world way. For some nannies, losing even a day’s pay means they won’t be able to make their car payment or cover their rent. For those nannies that do have a savings cushion, it’s still difficult to stay on track when they don’t know when or how often their paycheck will be less than expected.

I often hear the argument that other hourly wage earners aren’t paid when they don’t work so why should nannies be. It’s true, this isn’t a benefit that’s offered in any other industry. However in other industries, full-time workers are guaranteed the opportunity to work full-time hours. The boss at Home Depot doesn’t decide to close the store on Friday morning so he can enjoy a long weekend at the shore. The bank manager doesn’t close the bank early on a sunny afternoon so he can take his child to the zoo. The customer service center doesn’t close down for a week so the boss can go to Hawaii for spring break. In other industries full-time hourly workers can rely on a regular paycheck. It’s the unique nature of the nanny care industry that makes guaranteed hours a needed benefit for caregivers.

But what about part-time nannies? Right now, guaranteed hours for part-time nannies isn’t a standard benefit. However more and more families are offering this guarantee to ensure their part-time nanny is available to work when they need her to. If your part-time caregiver can’t count on a set number of hours from you, she’ll move on to a family that’s more reliable.

Some employers feel guaranteed hours are an unfair thing to ask for. If you’re in that camp and the above reasons haven’t swayed you, think of your nanny strictly in childcare terms. If your child was enrolled in a day care, family care center, or preschool and you picked him up early or went away on vacation, you’d still have to pay your full invoice. They don’t give you a discount for the time your child isn’t actually there. You’re paying for availability, not for the actual time childcare is provided. Nanny care works the same way.

Can I exchange pay now for hours worked at a later date?
Banking hours is one of those ideas that seems like a good comprise in theory but ends up not working well in the real world. The problem is your nanny has to make up the hours she owes you by working early mornings, late nights, or weekends in addition to her normal schedule. And although intellectually she knows you’ve paid her for that time previously, emotionally she feels she’s getting the short end of the stick. After all, it wasn’t her choice to miss work. She was ready and willing to come in. You just didn’t need her. And those banked hours take a big chunk out of her off time. To make up one 10 hour day, she might have to work 2 or 3 Saturday nights. Those are nights she has to give up her much needed down time or additional babysitting income. It doesn’t take long for her to become resentful.

Also banking hours is illegal. Your nanny must be paid for every hour she works and paid within the pay period she works the hours in. So you can’t pay her in December for hours she’ll actually work in January. Doing that opens you up to a claim for unpaid wages.

Can I ask her to do other things while we’re gone?
Yes, some families ask their nanny to catch up on bigger tasks like organizing the play room, rotating the seasonal clothes, or school shopping during their time away. You can ask your nanny to do anything that’s included in your nanny contract. However it’s out of bounds to ask her to tackle tasks outside of her job description like cleaning out the garage, power washing the house, or waxing the floors. (And yes, sadly those are real examples!)

While you can fill your nanny’s time with additional tasks, I encourage you to think about simply giving her the extra paid time off. It’s a gesture that goes a long way in the give and take of a successful employment relationship.

Hopefully this article has given you a better understanding of guaranteed hours.