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Personal Risk Management

Managing the Nanny Risk

Jack Hungelmann | April 1, 2004

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Child's bedroom with a nanny camera.

In this personal risk management column, the exposure created by the personal hiring of a nanny rather than using a nanny service is examined, and possible solutions to handle this exposure are offered.

This is the second in a series of columns on the subject of personal risk management, targeted especially for those agents who are considering offering fee-based risk management services to their personal lines clients. To offer these services, agents must broaden their paradigm of their job descriptions to think like a risk manager rather than an insurance agent. More on what that entails can be found at Personal Risk Management: An Overview, which illustrates how to create a personal lines risk management environment in an agency.

When a client for whom you're managing risks calls you with a change in his or her personal life, the first and most important step is to identify all the new risks associated with that life change. (You can't manage or treat risks that never get identified.) This article outlines one potential life change—the decision to hire a nanny for childcare—and the associated risk exposures and recommendations related to that decision.

Hiring a Nanny

As an example, my daughter Angela and her husband Scott recently became proud parents (and me a first-time proud grandpa) of little Sofia Isabel. They were considering their various childcare options and were leaning toward a solution becoming increasingly more common among young professional parents—sharing the cost of an in-home nanny with another couple with an infant about the same age as Sofia. They initially were going to use a professional nanny service, but due to the substantial costs, were leaning toward hiring their own nanny and treating her as an independent contractor.

Here are the added risks Angela and I identified, in no particular order, relating to hiring her own nanny, and my corresponding risk management advice regarding that risk.

The Risk My Recommendation
The IRS Risk

The risk of fines, penalties, and payroll taxes for improperly paying an employee as a contractor and not withholding payroll taxes.

Hire the Nanny as an Employee

Eliminate all the risk. Do the withholding. Pay the payroll taxes.

The Risk of Uninsured Injury Lawsuits

The risk of lawsuits for job-related injuries for which the nanny can sue you—something she could not do if you pay her as an employee and buy workers compensation coverage. Your home and umbrella liability coverage will not defend you nor pay any judgment because they both exclude injuries for which workers compensation benefits are due.

By not covering her for workers compensation, you also are exposed to owing her all benefits that would have been payable under workers compensation plus substantial fines and penalties from the state.

Buy Workers Compensation Coverage

Pay her as an employee. If injured on the job, she will be limited to collecting her medical bills and lost wages under the workers compensation coverage.

The Risk of Family Member Lawsuits

Lawsuits from a spouse for loss of consortium, from other family members for loss of services she provided them, etc.

Workers compensation coverage does provide employer's liability coverage but the limits may not be adequate to cover the lawsuit.

Buy Employer's Liability Coverage with High Limits

I recommend at least $500,000 plus additional coverage under a personal umbrella policy. Important: Be sure to buy an umbrella policy that includes excess employer's liability coverage. The majority of umbrellas do not, so you may need to shop around.

The Added Hassle and Potential Errors of Payroll Administration

Payroll tax withholding and payment responsibility to the state and federal governments, payroll form responsibilities, W-2 forms, etc. Add the risk of IRS fines and penalties for errors, plus the payment obligation of FICA and unemployment compensation taxes. (Usually about 10 percent of total payroll costs)

Hire a Payroll Service

Or consider a reputable software program designed to handle the nanny exposure that reduces or eliminates not only most of the work but most of the potential errors as well.

The Risk of Injuries to Your Child

Most nannies will not have their own liability insurance which means there won't be adequate funds available to compensate your child for her injuries.

Assume the Risk Yourself

Medical bills should be covered by your health insurance, or hire a professional nanny service that generally will carry this type of coverage.

The Risk of Employment-Related Misunderstandings

Whether she's an employee or contractor, employment misunderstandings can occur, such as workable hours, who is responsible for what type of insurance, etc.

Consider Using a Contract to Spell out Both Parties' Obligations

Include requirements to buy their own liability, workers comp, auto, health, and disability insurance if hired as an independent contractor.

The Risk of Hiring an Unsafe Person Get Her Signed Permission to Run a Preemployment Background Check

Get references. Check criminal records.

Car Accident Injury Risks

The risk of your child being injured in a car accident caused by the nanny's negligent driving or operation of the vehicle.

Get Her Signed Permission to Check Her Driving Record

Get her driver's license number, and check her motor vehicle records. Check her claims activity on a CLUE Report. Request proof of her automobile insurance liability coverage if she uses her own car. Add her as an occasional operator to your car insurance if she uses your car. Be sure your Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist coverage limits are high—at least $500,000 or more.

The Theft Risk

Consider the risk of the nanny stealing personal property, jewelry, cash, your identity, etc.

Do Background and Reference Checks

Reduce the risk as much as possible by hiding valuables. A fidelity bond might also be available for about $200 a year.

The Risk of No Backup

If your nanny gets sick, quits, her car breaks down, etc., there is no one else to cover for her.

Have an Emergency Backup Plan

Arrange backup childcare through a daycare drop-off facility, a kind neighbor, etc. Otherwise, reconsider using a nanny service which probably would have backup arrangements available.

Your Added Liability Exposure Having the Nanny Work Out of Your Home

The risk of the parents of the other child with whom you are nanny-sharing suing you for an injury to their child arising out of a condition on your premises (i.e., a dog bite, a fall on the stairs, a burn from a hot coffeepot, etc.). This is the price of having the service provided at your home instead of theirs.

Reduce the Risk as Much as Possible

Make sure your personal umbrella liability limits are comfortably high enough.

Benefits of a Nanny Service versus Hiring a Fully Insured Independent Contractor

I have starred (*) those risks that would be greatly reduced or even eliminated by contracting with a nanny service rather than hiring a nanny directly. If hired through a service, the nanny would be the employee of the service—not my daughter's employee—and this would reduce those risks. Plus, the service would likely be fully insured for injuries and even provide a backup nanny if needed. Those benefits, plus the convenience of using a service, may be worth the added cost of a nanny service.

On the other hand, many nannies are hired directly, rather than through a service. While my daughter was interviewing prospective nannies, one applicant was formally set up in her own business with a business name, 10-page contract, and business registration with the state and federal government. How would this scenario affect the risks and my recommendations?

My answer is that the risks would be similar to those of using a nanny service, except that there would probably be no backup person available. Also, strong documentation of for being registered with the federal and state governments needs to be obtained. Proof of liability insurance—preferably at least $1 million limits—plus a dishonesty bond should be furnished. The nanny's 10-page contract needs to be reviewed by an attorney as well as by the insurance agent/risk manager to make sure there are no adverse risk transfers or risk assumptions. A check of background, driving record, and references still needs to be done.


The need to hire a nanny is becoming more and more commonplace; however, many families are not aware of the associated risk management issues. Agents who include risk management services for their clients can help their clients both identify and manage these risks, most of which never get addressed until an uninsured claim occurs. Few, if any, would disagree that the clients' most precious assets—their children—are worth the consideration.

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.