Help In Your Home

Hiring Help At Home

Once you’ve decided what services you need, the next step is to choose who you want to provide those services. This can be a scary time, because you may feel vulnerable to the strangers coming to help you. “Will I be safe?” or “Will they take advantage of me?” may be questions you are asking yourself.

If you are working with one of our case managers, she or he may be able to assist you in locating quality people to come into your home. But whether you are hiring your own helpers, or working with a case manager, there are some questions you can ask and steps you can take to make sure that you know what to expect and are satisfied with the quality of people scheduled to help you.

When hiring helpers at home, ask or do the following BEFORE they enter your home:

  • Ask the agency for references(people who know about the agency and the kind and quality of work it does), and check them out. Ask questions like:
    • Does the agency have extra insurance on their employees to cover theft and/or breakage? Is your Area Agency on Aging familiar with this agency?
    • Is it a member of the Better Business Bureau or the Chamber of Commerce?
    • If so, has anyone lodged a complaint about the agency or one of its employees?
    • If you are not satisfied with the answers to any of these questions, look for another agency.
  • Ask for references on each employee and check them out! This is especially important if you are hiring someone who is not from a reputable agency.
  • Interview the worker! If possible have a family member or friend with you the first time you meet the worker or during any interviews you have. Remember, you will likely feel more comfortable if someone you trust is there as you get to know your new helper. There are many books and articles with questions on how to interview. For more help, call your Area Agency on Aging.
  • Ask about the training and supervision of the people you are hiring. Some questions may be:
    • Is the worker trained to do the kind of work you need done? By whom?
    • What kind of supervision do they receive (should it be under a nurse or social worker)?
    • What task is each worker allowed by law to perform? You should not ask workers to jeopardize their jobs by asking them to do things that they are not allowed or trained to do.
  • Ask how payment arrangements are made (if possible, NEVER pay in cash):
    • Will you be billed AFTER the services are provided or do you pay BEFORE you get them?
    • What if you are not satisfied or the worker doesn’t show up? Do you get a credit? How do you get another worker?
    • What kind of receipts are provided for services? When you have hired someone to shop for you, insist that they provide you with receipts for purchases they’ve made for you.
    • Will you have to sign or initial a timesheet? Will you get to keep a copy of the timesheet? Never sign an incomplete timesheet.
    • Do not give a worker access to your checking account, credit cards or social security number.* For the first few times, ask for identification BEFORE letting the person into your home. Read their card, badge, etc., and make sure this is who you are expecting. If not, contact the agency before opening your door.
  • Ask for and expect regular contact with the helper’s supervisor. Make sure you can reach the supervisor whenever there is a problem or concern about the worker.
  • Remove temptation. Once you have hired someone to help you, take a look around your home.
    • Do you have valuable jewelry that will be noticed by the worker? If so, put it in a safe deposit box or other secure location.
    • Do you have a lot of cash on hand? It is never safe to have money tucked away in a drawer. Put it in the bank.
    • Do you have your blank checks and bank statements sitting on a desk in plain view? Again, put them away. Purchasing a small locking file cabinet for such items can remove a lot of temptation for others.
    • What about valuable or fragile family heirlooms? Now may be the time to give those items to whomever you have selected to receive them after you are gone. You can still have the pleasure of seeing these items when you visit their home without the worry of accidental breakage.

Remember that you are the customer and have the right to expect courteous, respectful help from people who are on time and work hard. This is true regardless of the funding source used to pay for the services. As helpers, they have the right to expect prompt payment for service (usually to their agency) and be treated with respect. If you do your homework, you will likely find terrific people who will help make the changes in your life easier to handle… and you may also make some wonderful new friends!

What are your responsibilities in hiring help at home? Should you pay federal or state employment taxes for a household worker?

An IRS publication dealing with this subject, “Household Employer’s Tax Guide,” is available by calling 800-829-1040 and requesting Publication Number 926 or access the web at

There are two basic things you must decide:

  • Is the person “your” employee, or is he or she working for you on a contract basis?
  • Did you pay this person less than $1,300 in 2002? The amount may go up slightly for 2003.

Employees could include babysitters, caretakers, health aides, housekeepers, maids, nannies, private nurses, cleaning people, yard workers, and other similar domestic workers. The worker is your employee if you control not only what work is done, but how it is done.

Usually you will provide the tools and equipment your employee uses. If the worker controls how the work is done, the worker is not your employee but is self-employed. A self-employed worker usually provides his or her tools and offers services to the general public. There are also rules about hiring people who are not citizens of this country.

How do you pay these taxes?

If it is your employee, and you paid him or her more than $1,300 in a year, you may need to withhold and pay social security and Medicare taxes, pay federal unemployment tax, or you may need to do both. You do not need to withhold federal income tax from your household employee’s wages. If your employee asks you to withhold it, you can choose to do so. There are forms to be filled out and submitted to the IRS along with your payment.

This is a complicated issue. IRS does not accept ignorance of the law as an excuse. If you hire someone to work in your home regularly and pay him or her more than $1,300, please investigate the tax consequences. More information is available the IRS website, or you may choose to talk with a financial planner or tax preparer.