Chris Cooper, who is a senior associate in the employment team at international law firm Taylor Wessing, writes about some of the legal issues that involve private household workers.
Chris Cooper, who is a senior associate in the employment team at international law firm Taylor Wessing, writes about some of the legal issues that involve private household workers. These are matters likely to interest high net worth individuals who employ such staff and who need to be aware of their rights, responsibilities and potential vulnerabilities. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily shared by this publication.
Private household workers are often a vital part of any family and many have a special relationship with their employer. However, it is often overlooked that the family employer is treated the same as any other corporate employer under employment rules. As a result, this can cause unnecessary stress and potentially be costly and embarrassing for the family.
It is therefore essential that the family treats its staff as a commercial employer would treat its employees notwithstanding that it may seem unnatural to do so given the intimate working arrangement. A commercial employer would look to protect its interests throughout the working relationship and a family employer should do the same. Forward planning can ensure that the family is well placed to manage the relationship effectively and is protected from risks.
So, what are the key issues that families need to be aware of when employing household staff?
First, it is important to clarify the role of employer and employee.
An individual can of course engage another person to work as his or her employee, worker or contractor. In the case of a family, a contractual relationship will be formed verbally or in writing between a family member and the person carrying out the work. That family member is then personally responsible for compliance with obligations in the relationship. The consequence of this is that the family member could be sued for payments and any failure to comply with applicable laws that regulate the relationship.
One way to avoid personal liability, is to create a private limited services company owned by the family with which household employees can be engaged. The private company would then be responsible for obligations in the working relationship and liability would not flow back to family members. Alternatively, the family could engage employees using a work agency which would act as employer and be responsible for fulfilling employment obligations. If a family member engages staff directly, however, it is important to agree the terms of the relationship in writing to minimise risks to the family.