Friday, December 9, 2011

The Nanny Contract – All Good Things Must End

By Guest Blogger Nathan Hammons, Esq.

Today, in our fifth and final post, we address ‘termination’ or ending a nanny contract.

It’s not an enjoyable topic to think about. But you need to, as all parent/nanny work relationships end at some point. Advanced planning can ensure that everyone is treated fairly. It can also help avoid unnecessary hurt feelings.

At-Will Employment

In most states, nannies are ‘at-will’ employees by default. That means the parents can fire the nanny on the spot for a good reason (e.g., endangering the children), a bad reason (e.g., hair color), or no reason at all. The parents, however, cannot fire the nanny for an illegal reason (e.g., racial discrimination).

At-will employment has advantages, as problem employees can be terminated quickly. It also has its disadvantages. Most nannies, for example, depend on their jobs. They have bills to pay and plan their lives accordingly. If they’re fired on the spot, their lives will likely be thrown into turmoil. Similarly, a nanny walking off the job puts parents in a bind, as they’ll have to find a new caregiver on short notice.

Importantly, a written work agreement – such as a nanny contract – can replace at-will employment. That’s good news, especially given how parents and nannies rely heavily on one another.

For Cause Termination

With a written work agreement, termination comes in two flavors – ‘for cause’ and ‘without cause’.

‘For cause’ means the employer has good reason for ending the contract, such as illegal activity. It usually allows for immediate termination. ‘Without cause’ means the employer, for whatever reason, decides the employee’s services are no longer needed. It normally requires prior notice of a specified time (e.g., one-day, one-week, etc.).

With nanny care, there is a variety of behavior that might justify ‘for cause’ termination. For example, the nanny may compromise the children’s safety, steal from the parents, use illegal drugs, or fail to perform his or her job duties.

All of the ‘for cause’ behavior – that is, actions that allow the parents to fire the nanny on the spot – should be spelled out clearly in the nanny contract.

Without Cause Termination

‘Without cause’, as noted, means that an employer has simply decided to let an employee go. Parents, for example, might no longer need a nanny’s services because the children are of school age. Or the family may need to move because of a job transfer.

Whatever the reason, the key question for ‘without cause’ termination is how much ‘prior notice’ is needed to end the contract. Simply put, when do the parents need to tell the nanny that his or her employment will end? And when does a nanny need to tell the parents that he or she will be quitting?

It takes time to find a replacement caregiver. It also takes time for a nanny to find new work. That said, it’s usually best to require at least two- or three-weeks’ prior notice to end a nanny contract without cause.

Putting It Together

Next, combine your ‘for cause’ and ‘without cause’ language in your nanny contract, and your termination provision is complete. Here’s sample language you can use:

Termination Without Cause. Parents may end the nanny’s employment for any reason by giving him or her at least three-weeks prior notice. Likewise, the nanny may discontinue his or her employment for any reason by giving the parents at least three-weeks prior notice.

Termination For Cause. The parents may immediately terminate the nanny’s employment for cause if the nanny:
• violates the nanny contract
• allows the children’s safety to be compromised
• fails to perform his or her job duties
• lies or is dishonest to the parents
• steals from the parents
• is convicted of a crime, or
• uses illegal drugs.

This language can be inserted anywhere in a nanny contract, but it usually goes at the end. And don’t forget – the nanny and one or both parents need to sign the nanny contract.

Parting Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed our five-part series on nanny contracts. If you missed our prior posts, click here to learn why you should have a nanny contract, click here to read about keys to a good work agreement, click here to learn about common mistakes, and here to discover three things that can make a good nanny contract great.

If you have questions about nanny contracts, contact your nanny placement agency or an attorney licensed in your state. If you don’t have an attorney, your local bar association should be able to refer you to a good one. And best of luck with your nanny care!

This post is fifth post of a five-part series on nanny contracts. Nathan Hammons is an attorney in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He’s also a father and the creator of website with information about the legal ssues of nanny care and providing a professionally written nanny contract. He can be contacted at

DISCLAIMER: This post provides information only and not legal counsel or advice. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney licensed in your state.

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