Guaranteed Hours: What Each Side Needs to Know

We’re into summer and the questions about guaranteed hours are popping up so I wanted to unpack the benefit from each side. 

First, a definition. Guaranteed hours is a benefit that says if the nanny is available and willing to work and the family chooses not to use their services, the nanny will still be paid for the number of hours included in their typical weekly schedule.  Seems simple enough but it can cause a lot of confusion so let’s look at the nanny’s part and the parent’s part.

the nanny is available
Nannies, this means the time your employers are away is still part of your regular schedule and you should be available to show up at their door, roll up your sleeves, and work as usual.  Some nannies negotiate terms that say once the family tells them they’re not needed, the time converts into additional paid time off (in additional to the PTO already outlined in their contract) so the nanny does not need to be available.  If the family’s plans change, the family is responsible for finding alternative childcare.  This is not a standard part of guaranteed hours so if you want to extend the benefit in this way, you need to negotiate this addition and include it in your contract.    

and willing to work
Some nannies feel guaranteed hours means when the family is gone, the nanny should automatically get that time off too and if the family’s plans change, well, that’s not the nanny’s problem.  That’s a skewed definition.  Nanny work isn’t just hands-on childcare.  There are many parts to a nanny’s job that can be done (and often done easier and quicker) when the child is gone.  Nannies can rotate seasonal clothes, clean and organize the playroom, get a jump start on school shopping, plan activities, interview music teachers, catch up on kid-friendly menu planning, and on and on while their employers are away. 

If you don’t have an extensive job description, instead your employer may ask you to do simple household tasks like bringing the mail in, watering the plants, or feeding the cat during your typical hours.  While these aren’t nanny duties, they are easy things you can do to help keep the household running smoothly while your family is gone.  Of course, the details of what exactly is included should be talked about, agreed on, and included in your nanny contract. 

the bottom-line
Sure, getting the time off would be better than working.  No one would deny that. However, if your employer doesn’t offer that, remember that being a nanny is a job like any other; we get paid to show up. Employers that ask their nanny to work on child-related tasks or do simple household tasks aren’t by default cheap, unfeeling, or disrespectful.  We’re getting paid so it’s not inappropriate for them to ask for something in return. 

If that’s not acceptable to you, then it’s your responsibility to negotiate that expansion of the benefit before you’re hired so everyone knows the expectations going in.

chooses not to use their services
Families, it’s essential to understand if you choose not to use your nanny’s services without providing guaranteed hours equal to their typical schedule, you’re taking away their ability to earn a full week’s wages.  That isn’t just an inconvenience.  It’s a financial hardship for many and at times, financially devastating for some.  (Even well paid nannies can be living paycheck to paycheck.)  Your nanny has committed to providing care for you for a certain number of hours per week.  Those hours are yours.  If you choose not to use them, your nanny should not lose money because of that choice.

what does the nanny do during guaranteed hours?
option 1 WORK
If your nanny has an expanded job description that includes tasks outside of hands-on childcare, a great time for them to complete those tasks is when you’re away.  Most high level nannies have excellent time management skills and can get bigger projects done and still enjoy some real down time if you’re gone for a week or more.

You can ask your nanny to help out with simple household tasks like bringing in the mail, watering the plants, or feeding the cat during their scheduled hours.  Since these tasks aren’t in the nanny’s job description, you should negotiate this option well in advance of any time off and detail it in your nanny contract. 

You can give your nanny the time off with the understanding that if your plans change, the nanny will be needed back at work.  This allows them to enjoy time off and also lets them know they shouldn’t make any non-refundable payments on flights or hotels or make plans they’d be heartbroken to cancel.

You can give the nanny the time off and add the agreement that if your plans change, it will be your responsibility to find additional childcare.  That time now becomes paid time off and it can’t be taken back.  Some nannies negotiate this option for all guaranteed hours.  If you can offer it, it’s an amazing benefit that your nanny will greatly appreciate.  However, it doesn’t work for every family because some often do have plans that fall through and they need their nanny ready and available to work when that happens.

You don’t have to choose only one option.  You can handle different situations in different ways, depending on the specifics of the situation.  For example, as a nanny I usually worked under option 1 or 3.  If I had big projects I needed to work on, I’d go into work when my family was on vacation and get them done.  Then I’d take the rest of the time off.  If I didn’t have any projects, I’d receive the time off but I’d stayed available just in case.  Those “just in case” situations do come up.  I’ve had families cancel long weekends because of a client issue, cancel a vacation because the whole house got sick, and cancel a sleepaway camp reservation because of a tween’s broken leg.

common trouble spots
Each one of these can be unpacked in-depth but right now, I just want to provide a quick list.

  • Don’t try and bank hours.  (Banking hours is when you pay a nanny while you’re gone then want them to make up that time later down the line.)  Don’t even ask.  It puts the nanny in an awkward position because you’re really asking if you can take back a benefit you offered at hire.
  • Don’t ask your nanny to do things outside their job description unless they’re simple household tasks and the nanny agrees to do them in advance of your time away.  Simple household tasks really are simple.  Cleaning the garage, washing the windows, weeding the garden, organizing the master closet; tasks like those should never been added to the “simple tasks to do list”.  (Yes, some employers really do ask for those things.)
  • Don’t ask your nanny to come in during times outside of their regular working hours.  They may not be providing childcare but their schedule still stands.  If you need help outside the nanny’s hours (e.g. someone to be with the anxious dog), pay the nanny for the extra time or hire someone else to take that task on.

the bottom-line for employers
How you handle (or ignore) guaranteed hours is a tell into your willingness to take on the full role of a nanny employer. Your willingness to not just pay the bare minimum of an hourly wage but to also accept all the other expenses that come along with having a nanny. And let’s be honest, guaranteed hours suck for employers. Most of the time you’re paying someone to do nothing. (And from the nanny collective, we thank you!) Good employers do it because they see the bigger picture, they see the value in providing financial security to a dedicated employee and rewarding a great nanny with extra paid time off.

All your agreements around guaranteed hours should be detailed in your nanny contract.  The A to Z Nanny Contract provides you with all the options and all the scripting for each option.  You don’t have to figure out how to say it. You just choose the option that works best for you.  You can get your copy at 

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