Put It in Writing
Regardless of the type of childcare, when the parents wish to terminate the services of the provider, they should put the termination in writing. The form of the writing may depend upon the particular childcare arrangement and the circumstances surrounding the decision to terminate. Childcare arrangements that end on a positive note require less detail than relationships that are terminated for cause. If you are terminating the relationship due to misconduct, abuse, or negligence by the caregiver, you should state that in your notice.
If it is a matter of leaving a day care center due to a move to a new city, a simple paragraph giving notice of your child's last day at the center should suffice. However, be aware of notice policies that your childcare provider may have. Typically, centers require two to four weeks' advance notice of terminating a child's enrollment. The center may ask you to pay tuition up front (upon enrollment) to cover that notice period. If you remove your child from the facility before the expiration of the enrollment period, you will forfeit the payment.
Even if you have hired a nanny who never bothers to show up for her first day of work, you should send a written termination notice stating it is effective immediately. This will avoid the possibility of the nanny later claiming that any sort of payment or benefits are owed to her as your employee.
In-Home Care Terminations
Ending in-home care arrangements can prove to be a bit trickier, especially if the split is not amicable. With outside care, all you have to do is remove your child from the facility. An in-home caregiver is, to some degree, entrenched in your household, especially when the caregiver is a live-in one. Not only do you have to end the relationship, you have to be sure that the caregiver packs up and leaves. If you have relocated a nanny from out of state, or if you have an au pair from another country, you may even be obligated to contribute to the costs she incurs in returning home, such as airfare. If you go through an agency for your in-home childcare, be sure to find out exactly what your liability is regarding termination before the caregiver arrives.
When ending a live-in caregiver situation, you may not want to leave the nanny alone in your home once you have told her you are terminating her employment. For that reason, you should try to time the termination so that you are able to be home for several days to supervise her departure. If that is not possible, you could arrange for another person that you trust to be present in your home while the nanny gathers her belongings.
It is possible that your childcare provider will not have the means to return home or even to secure lodging right away. In such a case, you might make the departure go more smoothly if you offer to put her up in a local hotel for a night or two. Even if you do not feel the nanny deserves that consideration, it might prevent her causing a scene or other trouble. This will make your life easier, but more than anything, it will benefit your children if you can avoid conflict as much as possible.
Problems the In-Home Caregiver Can Create
There have been cases where disgruntled nannies have retaliated for being fired by notifying the state department of children's services or labor boardfalselythat the former employer either harassed the nanny or abused the children. One of the best ways to avoid the nightmare scenario of a child abuse accusation is to keep complete records. You will want to keep a log containing not only the nanny's job performance during the course of her employment, but also of any injuries that your child may have suffered during her employment. Include dates and names of anyone else who would have personal knowledge of any incidents, either of injury to your child or misconduct by the nanny. Put any complaint you may have about the nanny's performance in writing. If the nature of the complaint is serious enough that a repeat occurrence would cause you to fire the nanny, be sure to put the complaint in the form of a disciplinary warning. Give a copy of the warning to your nanny. Also, have her sign another copy with an acknowledgement that she has received the written warning.
Claims of Sexual Harassment
To keep safe from a charge of sexual harassment by the nanny, take great care to maintain your relationship with her on a professional level. Sometimes, especially with a live-in nanny or a working relationship in which the nanny is considered one of the family, the line between familiarity and impropriety can be a bit blurry.
In general, the federal laws that prohibit sexual harassment apply only to employers with at least 15 employees; therefore, they will not apply to a nanny situation. However, some states have human rights laws of their own that make essentially all employers liable for harassing conduct of a sexual nature. Examples of conduct that may amount to sexual harassment include: overt sexual advances; obscene comments; language or jokes (verbal or written); unwanted physical contact, such as grabbing, rubbing against, or other touching; personal questions of a sexual nature; and, the display of obscene or pornographic material in the work area of the employee.
State laws against sexual harassment usually also prohibit retaliation by an employer if the employee reports harassment to the proper state agency. Typical penalties for a finding of liability for sexual harassment are fines, restitution for lost wages or benefits, reinstatement if the employee has been wrongfully terminated, and punitive damages. The safe course of action, if you have any doubt, is to completely avoid the above types of behavior around the nanny.