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Avoiding Risk with Household Staff


Although physicians have learned the value of proper workplace procedures and insurance coverage in their medical practices, few are likely to be as professional with household help such as nannies, maids, and gardeners.

Periodically, headlines pop up that either effectively end potential candidates’ run for elective office because of some gaffe involving household help or show some celebrity in legal or financial hot water from the same quarter.

Docs have (reluctantly, for some) learned the value of training and providing insurance for their office-based staff, but few are likely to be as professional or careful with their nannies, maids, gardeners, etc. However, employer risk at home is not limited to public figures.

The most important thing for everyone who employs such people — whether they be “members of the family” or even part-timers — is to stop, and think proactively. Where is the risk and how can I minimize it before it can become an issue?


Consider your home also as a workplace and you will be steps ahead. Formalizing processes, such as hiring and firing, with documentation, can prevent misunderstandings and reassure all involved. Clarity is always desirable.

Just like at your office, hiring carefully is key. If necessary, have a local company do the screening, interviewing, and vetting. Establish a simple list of goals, roles, and responsibilities. Discuss your house rules and customs, as families vary. Review security issues and how interpersonal interactions are usually done. Do simple training for any specific specialized tasks, particularly handling of valuable objects and collections.

And don’t ask an employee to operate outside of his or her area of activity without training. For instance, a gardener might feel put on the spot when asked to look after Little Susie while you run out to the store. The gardening won’t get done and the gardener may be ill-equipped to handle anything that may come up with Little Susie.


Proper insurance is another key. Just as for your medical practice, make sure that you have an excess liability, or “umbrella,” policy that goes $1 million to $3 million past your homeowner’s and/or vehicle coverage. In this litigious society, one bad legal judgment can wipe out existing coverage and a lifetime’s asset accumulation.

Likewise, get employment practice coverage to cover such topics as claims of sexual harassment or discrimination. It can be an add-on or a stand-alone policy, but should be in place. Just like carrying an umbrella on a cloudy day, let’s hope that insurance can act as a totem to ward off an undesired occurrence.

Workman’s compensation is also called for, unless you can get a rider on other coverage. And do not forget Social Security payments, just as for your office. For record keeping, checks are better than cash, although some home-based help may not prefer to leave a paper trail.

Sleep better

This can all be annoying and you may say I’ve gotten along for years ok, why should I do all of this now? The beloved family help certainly aren’t going to cause a problem. Are they?

Household help allows us to focus on matters of greater importance to us and can be invaluable. With a few simple management techniques and proper insurance coverage, you can sleep better knowing that “help” does not become a hindrance.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice