How to Hire an Individual Housecleaner
Last updated June 2021
Paying one person to clean your digs differs substantially from hiring a company. He or she will be your employee, not a contractor. You must negotiate pay and benefits.
As with a housecleaning company, you’ll want to hire someone you can work with comfortably. He or she must understand your expectations on what they’ll do and how they’ll do it.
The personal nature of your relationship with an individual housecleaner can be problematic. You may feel ill at ease giving orders or voicing complaints. Your employee may feel awkward about requesting a raise, extra pay for special jobs, or time off.
To help you screen prospective household employees and define a satisfactory relationship, we share results of our surveys of subscribers and other local consumers who have employed housecleaning help, guidelines for household employment, and a summary of employers’ legal responsibilities.
Survey of Employers
We surveyed more than 2,000 consumers who employ individual housecleaners. Here are answers to questions we asked—
- How did you find the housecleaner? More than 75 percent were steered to their employees by friends, relatives, neighbors, or coworkers. The next most frequent source was advertisements.
- How much do you pay? When we asked about pay per visit, number of rooms in the respondent’s home, and number of hours for a typical visit, we found big variations in wages. Some employers pay a rate that calculates out to less than $15 per hour, while others pay more than $75 per hour. On average, surveyed employers pay their housecleaners $110 per visit, which when factoring in hours worked equals about $39 per hour.
- What other types of payments or benefits do you provide? About 10 percent of respondents reported they provide or reimburse for transportation costs; six percent provide meals. Ten percent offer paid holidays and seven percent said they provide paid vacation time, but fewer than four percent reported helping pay for health insurance or offering paid sick leave.
- Are you paying employer taxes? A surprisingly small percent (12 percent) of respondents pay the employer’s share of Social Security taxes and unemployment taxes. Fewer than 10 percent withhold income tax.
- How do you rate your housecleaner? We asked respondents to rate their employees on several questions. Compared to the average scores from consumers who rated housecleaning companies, the ratings of individuals were, on average, higher.
- Do you have an explicit agreement with your housecleaner regarding pay, duties, schedule, benefits, and other aspects of employment? Seventy-five percent had no agreement, and only a handful of respondents had written agreements.
When recruiting a new worker, always contact past employers and ask about the prospect’s strengths and weaknesses. Describe your expectations, and ask about any problems they may have experienced.
Before interviewing candidates, write out a job description detailing the tasks you require and how often you want them done. If you are picky about certain things, tell the candidate about them during the interview. If some tasks are out of the ordinary, discuss them.
Work out all terms of employment and put them in writing. Discuss and reach an agreement on pay, sick leave, vacations, holidays, hours, and rules regarding meals and rest periods. Also, establish a probationary period: It gives you and the employee the opportunity to back out gracefully if problems arise.
During the probationary period, get acquainted with each other. Be at home during the first visit or two, and explain any peculiarities of your home. As work is completed, discuss any areas of dissatisfaction. Do not let complaints pile up and then bring them up after a month. Be straightforward and honest with criticism and directions.
A major disadvantage of employing an individual rather than using a housecleaning service is the added legal responsibilities associated with being an employer.
Verification of Citizenship and Work Eligibility
When you hire an employee, federal law requires you to complete with them a Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To do so, you must check the employee’s identification or other documents that prove either that he or she is a U.S. citizen or has the necessary documentation to work in the U.S. The verification form is not filed with USCIS, but you must keep the completed form on file for three years after the date of hire or for one year after employment ends, whichever is later. You can download the form at uscis.gov.
Federal law requires that Social Security and Medicare taxes be paid for all adults (18 years of age and older) who are paid more than $2,300 per year for household work. In 2021, the employer’s share is 6.2 percent for Social Security and 1.45 percent for Medicare, and the employee’s share is also 6.2 percent for Social Security and 1.45 percent for Medicare. If you employ someone, you are responsible for payment of both your employee’s share of these taxes and your own share. You can either withhold your employee’s share from his or her wages or pay it yourself.
If you pay a household employee $1,000 or more during any calendar quarter during the current year or the previous year, you must also pay federal unemployment taxes. The tax rate is six percent of the first $7,000 in wages, but the federal government offers a credit to offset state unemployment taxes (see below) of 5.4 percent, regardless of the actual state tax rate (you get it by filing Form 940 with your income tax return). This means that if you properly pay state unemployment taxes, the effective federal unemployment tax rate is 0.6 percent.
Payments are made annually by completing a Schedule H on your Form 1040 income tax return. Failure to pay these taxes can result in penalties as well as the obligation to pay both the employer’s and the employee’s share of the taxes.
Although you are not required to withhold federal income tax, you are required to file forms W-2 and W-3 with the Social Security Administration each year. The Social Security Administration records earnings and sends the information to the IRS.
For more information, see IRS “Publication 926: Household Employer’s Tax Guide.”
Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania do not require employers to withhold state income taxes for household workers unless they are already withholding federal income taxes.
Delaware requires employers who pay household workers $1,000 or more in any calendar quarter during the current or preceding year to pay unemployment insurance tax. New employers should register with the Delaware Department of Labor’s Division of Unemployment Insurance. The unemployment tax rate varies depending on the wages paid and previous unemployment claims against the employer; most new employers pay 1.8 percent on the first $16,500 of wages. For more information, call 800-794-3032 (302-761-6576 in New Castle County) or visit labor.delaware.gov/divisions/unemployment-insurance.
New Jersey requires employers who pay household workers $1,000 or more in a calendar year to register with its Division of Revenue. Employers must pay taxes for unemployment insurance (UI), disability insurance (DI), temporary disability insurance (TDI), and the New Jersey Family Leave Insurance Program. The tax rates vary depending on the wages paid and previous unemployment claims against the employer. Employees in New Jersey also pay into the unemployment fund; the rate for 2021 is 0.425 percent. Household employees also pay 0.47 percent of their wages for temporary disability insurance and 0.28 percent for family leave insurance.
Pennsylvania requires employers who pay household workers $1,000 or more in a calendar quarter during the current or preceding year to pay unemployment compensation (UC) tax. New employers should register with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. The tax rate varies depending on the wages paid and previous unemployment claims against the employer. Employees in Pennsylvania also pay into the unemployment insurance fund, at a rate of 0.06 percent. The City of Philadelphia also requires employers to withhold a city wage tax from employees and remit it to the Philadelphia Department of Revenue. For more information, call 866-403-6163 or visit dli.pa.gov.
Workers’ Compensation Insurance
Workers’ compensation insurance covers costs such as medical care and lost wages for workers who are injured or killed on the job. You can buy a workers’ compensation policy from your homeowners insurance carrier or from an insurance agent. Legal requirements for employers of household workers vary depending on where you live—
- Delaware requires all employers who have paid domestic workers $750 or more during a three-month period to purchase workers’ compensation insurance.
- New Jersey law requires all employers to purchase workers’ compensation insurance coverage, but you can be declared exempt from the requirement if you can prove that you have the financial resources to pay claims on your own. Because New Jersey requires that all homeowners and personal liability insurance policies include coverage for household workers, employers who carry liability insurance can notify the state’s Division of Workers’ Compensation that they wish to “self-insure” and be exempt from state workers’ compensation insurance requirements.
- Pennsylvania does not require employers of household workers to purchase workers’ compensation coverage.
Paid Sick Leave Requirements in New Jersey
All New Jersey employers must offer paid sick leave. At minimum, employees earn one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked. Accrued hours carry over at the end of the year, but employers can cap accrued hours at 40. Paid sick leave can be used for medical or mental healthcare, to recover from domestic or sexual violence, childcare facility or school closures, and to attend school-related conferences.
Philadelphia’s Domestic Worker Bill of Rights
Since May 2020, all household employers have been required to provide workers with written employment contracts, meal and rest breaks, paid and unpaid leave, and other benefits and rights. Visit phila.gov/documents/domestic-workers-bill-of-rights-resources for details.