Few hiring decisions are as personal or as high-stakes as employing somebody to work in your home, whether it's to look after children or relatives, manage the household or to keep everyone clean and fed. It's easy to overlook the fact that employment law (with very few exceptions) applies to household staff just as it does to staff working in a business.  We find that a lot of the problems which often arise can be avoided with careful thought at the outset of the relationship.

Status:  It's worth considering whether employing the individual directly is the best option. Using an agency involves extra costs but can save a lot of headaches as they will engage the individual and process their pay (including tax and national insurance contributions).

Systems:  If you decide to employ the individual directly, you need to make sure that you have sensible arrangements in place for processing their pay and ensuring that the correct deductions are made for tax and national insurance.   You may also need to enrol the individual automatically into a pension scheme under the auto-enrolment rules and make contributions to that scheme. The state-operated NEST scheme is one option. 

Your obligations: You also need to make sure you have a clear understanding of your duties as an employer. Employment law is a fast-moving area and the penalties for getting it wrong can be substantial: not only is there the risk of compensation being awarded to an employee by an Employment Tribunal, but Employment Tribunal proceedings are public (and Tribunal judgments are posted online on an easily-searchable database), so the reputational damage can far outweigh the financial impact. Private families are understandably reluctant to wash dirty linen in public, so disputes often need to be resolved via a settlement agreement, which itself requires certain legal formalities to be complied with.

Getting it in writing:  As a minimum, employers are required to provide employees with a statement of their terms of employment within two months of their commencement date, but a well-drafted employment contract can mitigate the risk of issues further down the line. As can a job description, which clearly sets out what is expected of the individual. Although it's tempting to think that the job description for a nanny or a butler is self-evident, in practice expectations can vary widely from household to household.

Confidentiality:  Discretion is key when it comes to household staff. It's essential that the employment contract contains confidentiality terms which adequately protect the household both during and after the individual's employment. But that's not the end of the matter: you may need to set out your expectations about social media and use of personal devices  – for example, would you be comfortable if your nanny posted a photo of her and the children in the park on her Facebook page? Prevention is almost always better than cure when it comes to disputes with staff, so having a clear policy in place can be very helpful.

The Howard Kennedy Employment team is very experienced in advising on private and domestic staffing issues.  Should you have any queries, please contact me at anjali.raval@howardkennedy.com.