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The Hand that Rocks the Cradle

Clare Chappell discusses employing domestic staff and getting the basic terms right

Employing domestic staff is not like an ordinary “commercial” employment relationship, even though the same legal framework applies.

In basic terms, domestic staff are employed so household can function smoothly whilst their employers get on with their business lives.  Whether a nanny looking after the children of the household, or a live-in carer for an elderly person, domestic staff perform essential functions in close quarters to their employer.

This article seeks to highlight some matters that could arise when employing domestic staff.

Recruitment

It is essential to ensure that you recruit the right person for a domestic role, especially a live-in role.  As well as qualifications, consider the candidate’s character and “fit”.

It is unlawful to employ anyone who does not have the right to work in the UK, or who is working in breach of the conditions under which they are permitted to stay in the UK.  Employers must confirm that prospective employees have the right to live and work in the UK by carrying out “right to work” checks on documents evidencing of that right before allowing an individual to start work.

If it transpired that an individual did not have the right to work in the UK, the employer could be liable for a civil penalty of up to £20,000 (per illegal employee), plus an unlimited fine and/or up to six months’ imprisonment.   It is worth getting this right at the outset and a reputable recruitment agency will help.

Contract of employment

All employees are entitled to basic written terms and conditions of employment within 8 weeks of starting work.  I recommend issuing a written contract at the outset, so a probation clause can be included (see below) and to deal with matters like the employee’s entitlement to use the employer’s vehicles.

Confidentiality will be an imperative.  There is an implied term of mutual trust and confidence that should exist between all employers and employees; arguably domestic employers are entitled to expect a higher level of trust and confidence.  Standalone Non-Disclosure Agreements are common for domestic staff, to prohibit any public statements about the employer or their family at any time, in any publication or on any social media platform.  Those quotes about the latest celebrity divorce from “friends” or “someone close” to the person might be PR-managed – or could come unapproved from their domestic staff.

Imposing a probation period is a good idea to give the employee time to settle in, and the family a chance to check all is working out satisfactorily, coupled with a minimal notice period for a quick separation if necessary.

During employment

As a bare minimum, employers must publish the disciplinary and grievance procedures that apply to employees – often included in a Staff Handbook covering all relevant policies and procedures.  No matter how many staff are employed, all employers should consider documenting the rules and procedures that apply, so that everything is clear on the face of the relationship.

Regular catch-up meetings are also a good idea – but don’t allow big issues to fester.

After employment

Perhaps oddly, it is best to anticipate and deal with post-termination matters at the start of employment.  In the domestic environment, ensuring confidentiality, and avoiding prolonged, magnified publicity from a claim or negative media reports, will carry an intangible value to employers.  It is often not simply a case of issuing a warning and carrying on after misconduct; the relationship, once dented, can be difficult to recover.

Dismissal might be the desired outcome for even a minor transgression, owing to that higher standard of trust and confidence expected from domestic staff.  Care should be taken to minimise risk of successful claims and ensure the employee’s contractual obligations as to confidentiality remain in force.  Early legal advice can help achieve a managed departure.

This article was written by Clare Chappell

Please note the contents contained in this article are for general guidance only. Legal advice should be sought before taking action in relation to specific matters.

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