Should I create a written work agreement?

It’s a win-win

Yes! A written work agreement ensures that you and the person you employ have a shared understanding of the job. For you, it’s a great opportunity to be clear about your needs and expectations and, like any workplace agreement, it increases the likelihood that the worker you employ will meet your standards.

For the worker, a written description of job duties, benefits, and work terms professionalizes the relationship, fosters job stability, and builds trust, giving a worker a full understanding of what you expect from her and what she can expect from you.

For both of you, sitting down together to shape a written agreement is a great way to get to know each other. Later on, your agreement will serve as an important foundation to help you in moments of transition or challenge and can ensure accountability on both sides.

Sure, it sounds easy…We know that the idea of a written work agreement can seem formal when we hope for a relationship that will be warm and informal. We may worry about doing it right, or feel too busy to do it at all. Or you might assume that you’ll get to it once you’ve felt out the work relationship for a while. We’ve been there—the world of avoidance!—and we never got around to it ourselves.

We also know firsthand what the hazards are to both you and an employee when job terms and expectations are never formalized. And we know how strong and successful a domestic workplace relationship can be when you’re on the same page.

How and when do I have a conversation about a written agreement?

While a written agreement offers tremendous advantages for both workers and employers, a worker might have apprehensions about it, especially if she is undocumented. That’s why it’s important to introduce the subject in a way that addresses some of her concerns up front.

You might start the conversation by saying you’ve found an organization that supports the rights of immigrant families and women workers and that it gave you information and ideas about how you can be a fair employer.

A great time is right after you’ve made the job offer. You’re letting her know how seriously you take your role as employer and are giving her a clear picture of the job you’re offering. (You could also introduce it at the end of a particularly good interview discussion if you feel that it’s a comfortable moment to feel each other out on the nitty-gritty of the job.)

If an employee agrees to a written work agreement, you can sit down together and carefully review a draft agreement you are proposing. For some examples you might want to reference, click here. This is when you can offer her the opportunity to add any additional topics she would like to include in an agreement.

Questions to ask the worker

  • When you think back to your previous jobs in other households, were there issues that you’d wished you’d been able to talk about and clarify in the beginning of the relationship with those employers?
  • What can we discuss now that can help us avoid problems in the future?
  • Were there issues that came up later on that you’d like to be sure to avoid from the start?

Questions to ask yourself

  • What are your priorities? If certain maintenance or household tasks are important to you–such as weekly laundry or bathroom cleaning–your written agreement (and pay rate) should reflect that, specifying which housekeeping duties are part of the job in addition to caregiving responsibilities. Dissatisfaction on both sides can arise when an employer is vague about the importance of these tasks.
  • Are your expectations realistic? If you want “light housekeeping” to be part of the job, which often includes cleaning up toys, dishes, or other messes from the day, these tasks must also be specified in a work agreement.
  • But also ask yourself, “Do I manage to feed, bathe, read to, and play with my kids and keep the floors entirely clean of toys and mashed Goldfish every day?”
  • Do your best to be honest with yourself and make sure your expectations are fair.
  • What’s my schedule? Finally, think hard about your schedule—as you really live it, not just the ideal day.

More about scheduling

This is one of the biggest sources of tension in a domestic workplace and you owe it to yourself and the worker to draft an agreement that accurately reflects your work hours and builds in flexibility if need be:

  • What is your commute home?
  • What is the usual time you will walk in the door?
  • Will your work hours change from day-to-day or week-to-week?
  • Do you regularly come home late?
If the answer is yes, then put it in writing.

What not to do: Calling your employee at the hour you are expected home and saying, “I’m so sorry but something came up. Can you stay late tonight?” It’s not a fair question: You are already late. She will not leave your family member unattended, no matter who’s waiting for homework help or dinner in her own household or what else she might have scheduled. This is a surefire way to undermine trust and goodwill in the domestic workplace.

Is it ever too late to set up a written work agreement?

It’s never too late to clarify important issues in a work relationship, especially if your relationship continues to be plagued by recurring issues and confusion. It might, however, feel a little awkward to raise the topic months or years into a relationship.

Make sure the worker understands that you’re not introducing a written document as any kind of reprimand or sign of mistrust, but as a means to help smooth out some of the knots in your relationship.

What if a worker doesn’t want to use a written work agreement?

A worker may be confused and apprehensive because no one has ever asked them to do this before and they’re unsure if it’s in their best interests. If she is undocumented, she may be fearful of putting anything in writing—and maybe you are too.

Encourage a worker to share her concerns with you and acknowledge that you understand. Let her know that your goal is to create an agreement together, a document that reflects her needs as well as yours.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance encourages workers and employers to use written agreements as a way to ensure fair and sustainable employment relationships.

If you’re unable to agree on creating a written agreement, you can use our Employer Checklist as a guide for a detailed conversation and a verbal agreement.

Suggested Readings

  • Find sample work agreements in here
  • Back to the main Q+A page.
  • Be guided through your own employment practices for your domestic workplace using our Employer Checklist.
  • Still can’t find what you need?
  • Contact us